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Home Sweet Home?

Time June 10th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!/ Hey!

Wow. Sitting there, at the airport in Cairo, the surreal moment suddenly became very real: I was finally going home. I realized that the next day I would not wake up in my apartment in Alexandria. I would not have to haggle with the taxi driver to take me to school. I could no longer not walk down to Tibawy and order foul and falafel or shwarma sourie freckh. I would no longer work out with my friends at the Tamarin Center. I would no longer be able to speak Arabic in the streets, see it on t.v., listen to it on the radio. So many things I would never be able to experience again. So many things that were about to change.

These last four months have been a whirlwind of excitement, adventure, independence and new experiences. I have made life-long friends and created memories I will always treasure. But there have been hard times too. I have doubted my strength on numerous occasions. I have wanted to quit, to go home. I have failed, made mistakes, and gone the wrong way. To describe my time in Egypt in one simple paragraph would be impossible, yet I suppose the main idea would be that I have never felt more alive than when I was in Egypt. For good or for bad. I have grown-up emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I have learned so much about Egypt, the Middle East, and the world. More than that I have learned about America. I have heard the way others view my homeland, despite how much it stung to listen. Being in Egypt was so eye-opening, such a test of my character while at times it was also like a giant vacation – 4 days of classes/ week, no NROTC to wake up for a 5:30am, no meetings to attend, no philanthropy events to host. I have never been more thrilled, more happy, more embarrassed, or scared than when I was in Egypt. I truly lived my time there to the fullest. I saw everything, ate (almost) everything. Everyday was a new experience, a new chance to explore and to learn. I was always on my toes or on the edge of my seat just waiting for the next big adventure.

So now, sitting on my porch at home in a sunny New Hampshire, contemplating what this trip has meant to me, my mind is filled with wonderful memories. I remember the trips I took, the friends I made, the passion I felt towards pursuing a greater goal. But it all feels sort of like a dream. All I have now, besides my journal, a few souvenirs, and some photos, is memories. What’s worse is that no one around me experienced it. When I regal the stories of climbing Mt. Sinai or sleeping in the desert I start to question if they actually happened the way I describe it. Soon the memories will fade and then what will Egypt mean to me? My only fear is losing the passion and the fire that events in Egypt have instilled in me. I want to change the world. I want to make a difference. When I was in Egypt I realized how one person could truly make all the difference. Being back in America, in my “old routine” I know it will be very easy to lose that desire but I don’t want to. My life in America may not be quite the adventure it was in Egypt but it is still an adventure and there will always be things to explore, new places to see and people to meet.

As far as return-culture shock, it has definitely affected me more than I thought it would. I still have some rather comical habits that I can’t quite break; such as throwing my used toilet paper in a trash can instead of the toilet and wincing every time I see a police cruiser. I have noticed the women wearing hijabs and felt an ache to speak with them in Arabic (but then not approaching them for fear they don’t actually speak fluent Arabic). I have also never noticed how much sports clothing Americans wear. Its everywhere! Or how clean EVERYTHING is haha. More than that, however, I have seen America in a new light. All the stereotypes and critiques I heard about Americans while I was in Egypt have instilled in me a new perspective on Americans. Now I see big ol’, waving red flags everywhere I look. The middle-school age girls at my local grocery store dressed like they were college-age women headed to some downtown club. The fat people in scooters or wheelchairs because they are far too lazy to walk. How rude people can be even while waiting in line for a bus. I remember what it meant for Egyptians to have clothes on their backs, to have proper food to eat, their appreciation for the basic and simple. I remember their hospitality and how a guest, even a stranger, can never turn down an offer for a drink. I miss these things and I miss my friends. I miss taking part in a new adventure every weekend. I miss everyday being a learning experience and a test. Reverse culture shock is also funny in the way that I didn’t realize. I have truthfully forgotten a couple cultural norms for Americans. For example, when ordering food or denying an offered beverage. But luckily I have friends and family here that can shoulder the cultural norms for me haha.

Being back in America does have its perks though, don’t get me wrong. I have already gone for a run twice in the streets. I have worn shorts and skirts and t-shirts in public. I have cranked up my favorite music on the radio and rolled the car windows down in order to better shout it out. I have driven a car. But most importantly, I have eaten every American dish that I could get my hands on. I don’t miss the traffic, the dirty streets, the corrupted police of Egypt but I do miss the people and the simple appreciations they have.

I don’t know how long these conflicting feelings will last about my home. I hope I can maintain some sense of objective criticism of America since I do intend to become involved in world politics one day but I also look forward to truly enjoying being home. I don’t want to forget my time in Egypt and I don’t want to forget the desire I have to change that region’s political structure for the better. Right now my experience in Egypt seems like a dream but hopefully as I tell my stories, more people will be able to relate to what I went through over there. Now, no one seems to really understand but in time I hope and believe they will. Maybe then my reunion with America will truly mean home sweet home.

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Turkish Delight

Time May 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

After all the emotion of the first couple weeks of April I was in desperate need of a getaway. Although I would have preferred a week or two at home in the States, I instead found myself in Istanbul, Turkey. For the Coptic Easter holiday, IFSA students were offered the first 11 days of May off from school. This was our longest break of the semester so this was really our only chance for a big trip outside of Egypt, anywhere we could afford to go. Since we are already half way across the world it would have been silly to pass up the opportunity for cheap airfare. It really was a once in a lifetime chance to go experience a completely new country on our own. Initially I assumed the 5 of us would all go together on this adventure but the IFSA gang split once Emily and Dhruv decided to fly to Morocco on their own. Sarah was lucky enough to have friends to stay with in Australia so she went there. As for Matt and I, it was between Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. With Greece on the Euro we soon found out that spending two weeks there would be well out of our price range. And with Cyprus experiencing so much unrest we booked our non-refundable (though surprisingly cheap) ticket to Turkey. I was so excited to go. I needed something to take my mind off the long month that still remained, the inevitably of finals quickly looming ahead of us, as well as all the emotions built up as a result of the tragedy in Boston and homesickness.

And so, on April 30th I was up bright and early on the train headed for Cairo. Once Matt had his passport (his was stolen a few weeks back so we had to go to the embassy to pick up his new one) and we ate an awesome dinner at our favorite restaurant near the IFSA apartments in Cairo (GAD), the trip was off to a good start. Matt was euphoric to finally have a passport in his pocket again and once I eat I always feel better haha. But the moment we stepped into the taxi on our way to the airport our happy getaway turned into an all-too-real nightmare. Everybody knows in Cairo, or should know, that foreigners HAVE TO take taxis with meters, otherwise the consequences WILL undoubtedly be costly. Before we got in I asked if the taxi had a meter, he said yes, I saw the meter and we began loading our bags. Once in the car, not two minutes after we started driving I realized the meter was not working. I asked the driver about it and sure enough, it wasn’t. BIG PROBLEM. The next 4 hours would have changed drastically if we had just gotten out right then. But we didn’t. Next thing that happened was our driver began pulling over asking people on the street for directions on how to get to the airport. Picture the two of us, stuck in a taxi with no meter, with a guy who has no idea how to get to the airport. Perfect. We left at 5:30pm. Our flight was supposed to leave at 8:15pm. That gave us about 1 hour to get to the airport. Which is what we had been told was plenty of time by many people. An hour and 30 minutes later we finally see the airport. This is when I get frustrated with myself. Neither Matt nor I knew which terminal we were flying out of but the second we passed it we knew we were headed the wrong way. I tried with all my might to explain to the driver in Arabic to turn around but my vocabulary failed me. Once at the (wrong) terminal we hopped out in a rush when the driver, naturally, demands 200 EGP for the trip. Keep in mind with a meter this should be around 45/50 EGP. I was beyond furious. I argued with him, in Arabic keep in mind, for a good 5 minutes. I would not back down. If I had not been so rushed I believe Matt and I could have done better but we had to go so we settled for 90 EGP. Feeling ripped off we clamored into the terminal and discovered that, of course, we were at the wrong one. Luckily there was a free shuttle so we didn’t have to deal with another taxi driver. With the seconds feeling like hours we waited and finally got to the correct terminal. Bumbling about we got through initial security and found the check-in desk about 45 minutes before our international flight was scheduled to leave. There was only one desk with a ticket agent. One blessing is that there was no line, there was no one there at all. I walked up to the ticket agent and asked if we could check-in for our flight. She said no. She was closed. They closed an hour before the flight was scheduled to leave. On the verge of tears I practically begged to be checked in. We stood there begging when another ticket agent came over and said he’d check us in. Hallelujah! Matt and I got our boarding passes and headed to customs. I got through but Matt was held up. It turns out he didn’t have an arrival stamp or a visa into Egypt in his new passport. Immediately I told him I would run and hold the plane for him thinking boarding was practically completed at this point. I took off like a freight train, sprinting through half the airport, luckily a guy in a golf cart picked me up halfway to my gate. I got there and had to wait in security (yes, again) then waited…. And waited… And waited for Matt to show up. He had been taken into police questioning which is never a good thing in Egypt. They had demanded he pay for a new visa but he didn’t have enough cash and he accidentally left his debit card in the apartments and he also checked his police report in his luggage (when it rains it pours, right?). But Mr. M swooped in to save the day and convinced the police through Matt’s cell phone that Matt’s story was true. Practically the last two on the plane we sat down and couldn’t stop laughing and high fiving. What a series of events. But we defied all the obstacles and made it. :)

The rest of the trip was not nearly as dramatic. We landed, got a van to take us to our hotel, checked in and passed out. The next morning we accidently slept in too long and missed breakfast but we didn’t mind. We grabbed the map and my camera and headed out into the sunny early afternoon. We walked for about 45 minutes along the main road near our hotel before we asked for directions. We asked for the Blue Mosque, our goal for the day, when they told us we had to take a bus there. So for 2 lira (about $1.30) we bought a bus ticket, hopped on and took the main road in the exact opposite direction back towards our hotel. Oops. haha. At our stop we got off and found ourselves in the center of the old city. Oh my goodness, it was breathtaking. After being in Egypt for so long I forgot was grass smelt liked, what fountains sounded like. On that walk towards the Blue Mosque, Matt and I pointed out everything in Istanbul that Egypt wasn’t. I was on cloud nine. The air was clean, the streets were clean, the cars stayed in their lines, there were traffic lights and benches, grass was everywhere, there were even trees and I could hear birds in the air. If this is any indication of what my culture shock is going to be like going back to America my family is in for a good laugh. I was mesmerized. Purely mesmerized. Seeing the inside of the Blue Mosque and later the Basilica Cistern only added to that feeling of wonder and amazement. They were both so beautiful and so well preserved. Egypt could learn a thing or two from Turkey. The following day the excitement continued as we wandered the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. What an amazing place. It reminded me of a real life Cinderella’s Castle, except Kiara would tell you it has none of the same architectural doo-hickeys at all. haha. But inside it was full of mind-blowing items and beautiful artwork. Tiles from the 1400s and gold in some form were in every room, the detail was incredible. The armory housed items from all over Europe and Asia from all different time periods. The military history of the palace might as well have been the history of all of Eurasia. The palace even housed a relics section which supposedly held ancient religious artifacts such as Moses’ staff, the first Caliphs’ swords, and Prophet Mohammed’s beard, robe, and sword among many other belongings. Not to mention items from the Khabah. I found it hard to believe, personally. My favorite part of the entire palace was definitely the treasury. Oh my goodness, it was chock full of rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls, gold, sapphire, and every kind of precious metal and precious stone thinkable. The most prized possession in the treasury? An 86 carat diamond. Yup, I stared. Imagine being proposed to with that bursting out of the ring box? haha.

On Friday, Matt and I explored the coast and took a ferry along the Bosphorous to Kanlica. Kanlica is supposed to be home to the world’s greatest yogurt… but I wasn’t all that impressed. I only ate it because they drowned it in honey and powdered sugar. I’m no yogurt connessuir like Matt is though. He loved the stuff, so it made the trip worth it at least. Unfortunately, we missed the last ferry back to Karikoy from Kanlica BUT we still had one way left on those bus passes we bought when we got lost so we used them to get down to the ferry station across from Karikoy so it all worked out :) Saturday was spent admiring the gorgeous mosaics of Hagia Sophia. For those that don’t know, Hagia Sophia was built as a church then taken over by Muslims. After seeing the inside of it… I hope Christians take it back one day. The giant wooden billboards with all the Arabic just look so obviously tacky, wrong and obviously out of place with the ancient stone majesty of the place. And the lazy Islamic glasswork inside the long, steep windows frustrated the crap out of me as I imagined how it must have looked with all the gorgeous stained glass murals of early Christendom. This area of the world makes me think about religion too much haha. The next day added to those feelings as I saw the beauty of the Chora Church. It was quite the hike to get there but it was totally worth it. Saturday night we watched Istanbul win the Turkey National Championship futbol match from inside the Port Shield Pub. That was a ton of fun. I felt like I was in England :) The best part of the night was witnessing the scene in the streets after the game, however. The whole city went nuts. Flags were everywhere, people were hooting and hollerin and cars were honking at anyone wearing the red and gold. It was electric and so much fun to be a part of :)

On our second to last day in Turkey Matt and I did a LOT of walking. We ventured through the Egyptian Bazaar, bought a ton of lokum, found the Galata Tower and walked along the Istiklal Caddessi which is a high class shopping street in the “New City” of Istanbul. And oh yea, I got caught in a protest!!!! Go figure the odds… I leave Revolution-torn Egypt for the stable, mostly European Turkey and I find myself in a demonstration in Istanbul… haha. Matt and I were eating our lokum (that we bought at the Egyptian bazaar.. ironic?) in Takim Square when all of a sudden people began sprinting by us. Immediately confused we looked up to see a British couple next to us gathering their things and yelling at us to move as well. Quickly we packed up but curiosity got the better of us and before we began running we wanted to know what it was we were running from. That’s when we saw the protestors just on the outside of the square. I still don’t know exactly what they were protesting but I think it had something to do with the events of May 1st/ May Day just 5 days before. Riot police were everywhere. There were two big ol police tanks with a mounted water canon on top of both and they were driving the protestors back away from the square. I was never scared. Shocked, definitely, and my adrenaline was certainly pumping, but I wasn’t scared. Matt and I hung around to take pictures and to see if the small group would come back but since the police shot off tear gas we figured it wasn’t likely so we decided to look for a place to eat and then began making our way back down Istiklal Caddessi. The tear gas hung in the air but it wasn’t too powerful. My nose was a little runny and there was an itch in the back of my throat but most of it had dissipated with the wind. Not far down the road we saw another group of protestors marching towards us and the square. As we turned to head back towards the relative safety of the square the riot police had blocked the end of the street with their shields and the tanks. Uh-oh. That was when the adrenaline really kicked in. I thought we were going to be caught in the clash. But luckily, at the last minute, the protestors ran down a side street in the hopes of outflanking the riot police. It was definitely an exciting way to finish up our vacation haha.

Me In Front of Blue Mosque

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(P.S. I am having serious technical difficulties uploading all the photos to this gallery. I will try to upload the rest of the photos in a separate post. So sorry!)

We spent the majority of our final day shopping for souvenirs and bartering. The highlight of the negotiations took place in the Grand Bazaar when I was on the prowl for a part cashmere, part silk Burberry scarf. It was the only thing I had desperately wanted from Turkey. I found the perfect scarf and asked for the vendor’s price, 50 TL. Ten minutes later I had that guy down to 15. WIN. If nothing else, I will leave Egypt with epic bartering skills. :) Looks like I am my father’s daughter afterall! haha

The journey to the airport and back to Cairo wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the journey to Istanbul. This was mostly due to the genius planning by us two broke college students to avoid the 30 Euro shuttle fee to the airport. Rather than taking the shuttle, we decided to take the last metro to the airport and hang out there, oh, for about 6.5 hours. haha. Hey, it worked out well. We had no problems getting there or getting on the plane. We landed in Cairo and I paid for Matt’s visa so he would be allowed back into the country, and that was it. We spent the next couple days in Cairo just relaxing and preparing for our upcoming finals (which went pretty well by the way!)

In all, my trip to Istanbul was truly an experience I will never forget. I was so blessed to have had the opportunity to go. Even though it was expensive, it was totally worth it. I got to see and do so many things that not many kids my age ever get the chance to. It also made these last couple weeks fly by and provided a great distraction before the craziness of finals week began.

Thank you for reading and I promise to write on my feelings/emotions about the end of my study abroad experience soon!

Until next time, Ma’a Salaama!

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Emotionally Charged

Time April 19th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

The best way to describe these last couple of weeks is “emotionally charged.” It has been a rollercoaster of feelings for all different kinds of reasons – depression, passion, wonder, frustration, euphoria, contentment, anger, shock. So much has happened since Easter that it is a mystery to me how I’ve managed to handle it all. I really owe most of it to the incredible friends I have made since being here. Without the constant mutual support between Sarah and Matt and I, these last couple of days, especially, could have easily been overwhelming. Before I begin, I do want to give the two of them a shout-out. Up until I met them at the airport, I had no idea of who I would be spending my 4 months in Egypt with. That was definitely and easily my biggest anxiety. Anything can be made better with amazing people, or vice verse-ly, a tough situation can be made miserable with the wrong type of people. I rolled the dice and thank gosh, luck was on my side. Sarah and Matt have turned out to be the most incredible people, they are passionate and caring and although we differ on many issues, I would do anything to help them. They are those kinds of people that you stay life long friends with. In fact, we’ve already started planning trips together to visit one another once we get back to the States. The people you have these experiences with really make the biggest difference… and I am so grateful and blessed to have shared it with them. They have made my time here fun and enjoyable, especially through those tough times (like when you get sick, when the showers don’t work, when you miss home, when you need a hug, or when tragedy strikes at home). So here’s to you Matt and Sarah, before this trip I worried I would lose friends, but here I am gaining two best friends. :)

I will start with the reasons behind the more exciting and happy feelings that I have had over the last two weeks.  The majority of these feelings occurred while we were enjoying some time away from Alexandria. The first getaway was the weekend following Easter. The entire group met up with Miriam (Roma) and we spent an entire day exploring Cairo together. We headed to Coptic Cairo and then made our way (slowly) across town to Khan Al Khalili. Coptic Cairo is a place that just makes you go “Wow.” Everything there dates back to 14, 15, 16, AD: the gorgeous churches, the breathtaking paintings, the relics, the stone streets, the ancient architectural designs.. some even older than that. The alleyways are narrow and filled with bright tapestries and photographs and trinkets for sale. The churches look as if they belong in Italy. The most astounding part of Cairo for me was walking into the prison cell of St. George. I’m still not sure if he is considered a Catholic Saint or not, but he sure as shootin’ should be. What an incredible story. I highly recommend taking the time to Wikipedia it. It was another heavy, spiritual moment that left me in a slight daze. Adding to the awe and wonder was the display of the torture tools used on St. George… it was unreal. Following that very moving experience we made our way to a much lighter atmosphere in Khan Al Khalili. We spent hours wandering and admiring and looking and smelling. I bought a couple of small things but my most prized find was a tiny little perfume shop that sold perfumes for 1 pound per gram. In other words, I could get a full bottle of exceptional (and rare) Egyptian made perfume for a little more than $2. I bought two bottles. haha. Now I’m going to smell like Lotus flowers and Queens of the Nile when I get back home  :)

St. George's Cathedral

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Cairo was a great, short trip but the next adventure to Sharm Al-Shaik blew every other vacation and experience I’ve had thus far in Egypt out of the water (with the possible exception of climbing Mt. Sinai). It topped riding a camel, seeing the pyramids, the luxurious Nile cruise… it even beat a weekend at the 5 star resort in Ain Sockna. It was exhilarating and relaxing and just plain FUN. The initial intention of Sarah and I escaping Alexandria was to get some sun on the last weekend we would have together (other than the one before finals). So, where better than sunny Sharm Al-Shaik along the Red Sea? While enjoying our time at the beach, however, we were made aware of all the tourist-y activities available. It didn’t take very long to decide that we were gonna do something nuts haha, yet 170 pounds later I have never made a better decision. The three of us were first taken out into the bay on a glass bottom boat so we could see every reef and fish that passed underneath. Then Sarah and I went snorkeling with the same fish and coral. That experience reconfirmed every decision I have made to join the Navy. Despite everything… I love the water. I love the smell of the sea, the misty burn of the wind on my face. What a feeling! Being in the warm water with the perfect sun on my back and looking big eyed at the vibrant colored fish… it was a feeling of pure joy and happiness that I will never forget. I loved every minute of it. :) But, just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, it did. Less than 3 hours later I was on a boat in the middle of the bay stepping into a harness. Next minute I was up over 100 feet in the air, parasailing, soaring and floating in the breeze like a lazy butterfly. Under my feet was nothing but wave upon wave of beautiful, deep sea blue, but to my right and left was the breath-taking spectacle of the sun setting beyond distant Sinai mountains hovering ominously above palm tree covered beaches that seemed to stretch the length of the sky. Just wow. Wow. I’m not sure there’s ever been any other moment that I have felt so free. :)

Where there is happy there is sad (unfortunately) however, and these last two weeks were no different. I have suffered a couple of days of nostalgia for home. Mostly caused by frustration and anger over the small things here. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured by a pep talk from Sarah and a hot shower while blasting Toby Keith, though. It is easy to forget while reading this blog that despite all these wonderful adventures and ah-ha moments, I’m not home. I can’t do all the things I want. I can’t eat what I want. I can’t go for a run after a frustrating day of classes (more on that in a second) or grab a bowl of cereal when I’m hungry. I can’t have bacon at breakfast or wear shorts when its hot. I get charged triple anywhere I go because I’m very obviously white (taxi drivers are especially guilty of this). I haven’t heard country or pop or rock music on the radio in months, I haven’t really heard English in the media in months. I still get the woots and whistles, and approached by hopeful Egyptian men because I’m a highly sought after foreign girl. So many things that recently have clawed the way to the forefront of my mind, and consumed my sole focus for a day or two. This craving for America and for home, as well as the source of MUCH of my recent frustration, also came through recent debates/discussions within my classes. The frustration aspect mostly came from the passion to fix things here in Egypt. I feel it would be almost too easy to just run for office and kick out all the old Mubarak-age bureaucrats. I am frustrated because I wish more Egyptians would feel the same way. Where is the action to follow their words? Someone has to take that passion and get it where it can do some good. Someone needs to challenge Morsi. To put their name on a slate and state their platform. Why no one does is beyond me. Also, many of my classroom lectures in the past have discussed America and I am extremely proud of how objective I have grown, even to the point where I can quite easily see and discuss flaws made by America and the West without emotion. However, with all the other anti-Egypt emotional forces bending and threatening my objective will, I finally couldn’t take it. I more or less snapped. Nothing crazy or anything but rather than swallow the digs against America, I fought back and argued – very passionately too. My lawyer-to-be sister would have been proud. haha.

As I said, the missing home feeling was mostly manageable but what happened on April 15th and even more recently, yesterday, the 17th, shook all my resolve to the core. That was when tragedy struck home and it nearly crippled me. The events of Boston and in West, Texas have had an indescribable effect on my appreciation for America. Being here I have learned to truly appreciate everything I have (as I discussed especially regarding the freedom of religion) but in no way could I have predicted what something like that would do to me. Regarding Boston, not knowing who is responsible (yet) is the only merciful aspect of the entire situation for me. Not knowing who would murder people like that, my people is truly a blessing in disguise. This wasn’t in Baghdad, or Tel Aviv or Beirut or Cairo.. this was in the heart of America. This was in Boston. This was in a town an hour from my home. Boston is my town. When people here ask me what city I’m from in America, I say Boston. Not knowing who would dare to strike at my home has been my only source of relief. Being here and being so helpless… and not knowing the news for what feels like centuries… It was and is beyond angering. Here people went about their daily lives like nothing had changed. I wonder if they have grown so used to explosions and violence and bloodshed that they can no longer mourn the loss of life. If they have become so accustomed to it all that it hardly seems tragic anymore. I know I should pity a person who has gone through so much that would cause those (lack of) feelings but how can I when it was my home this time? Wouldn’t they feel the same if it was their neighbors covered in blood like it was mine? Not sure. But I do know that what happened in Boston on April 15th has me itching to get home and to do something. I am proud to say that I will be a part of the Navy and it will soon be my job to get the guy that did that. A part of me hopes they don’t catch him for a year or so, so I can do the job myself.

So sorry for the wordy entry… This post is very authentic and I hope it wasn’t seen as a complaining rant or a showing off tangent. I wanted to be real. I promised I would be. This is how I’ve been feeling and I wanted to share because it is part of studying abroad, just like it’s a part of life. I hope you enjoyed some of it at least.

Thank you for reading and until next time…

Ma’a Salaama!

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Life of Moses (Part 2)

Time April 1st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

As promised, I am back with more information on my latest few weeks in Egypt!

The two weeks following my Spring Break adventure were unfortunately, a sharp shock back to reality. I had way too much to do and not enough time to do any of it. I had my second powerpoint presentation due for my Politics class and I was stressed beyond belief over it since each presentation is worth about 20% of my overall grade. I did not do well on my last one and I knew this one needed to be perfect to balance out the poor grade. I also had my first big homework assignment for Ameya as well as a Naval Science exam due for back home; not to mention figuring out my class schedule for next fall, an Intelligence Community Fair (future career research), summer planning issues… all-in-all, I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours any night that second week. Naturally, as a result of the time crunch, I also wasn’t eating well ( I was either having Oreos for dinner or skipping meals all together) and after the long week of readily-available, incredibly-healthy, wonderful food, it really took its toll on my body. To top things off I didn’t have the time to work out either, so that just added to the stress… In short, I was in desperate need of a full nights sleep, some vegetables, and a mental vacation unlike any other.

Like an answer my prayers, the IFSA crew was whisked away in a van at 6 am on Thursday, March 21st, far too early in the morning in my opinion, but 6 hours later I knew exactly what the rush was for. I swore I was dreaming. Or in Heaven. Or in a Disney movie. I was the Princess and this… this grandiose building surrounded by so much green, perfected by the sound of distant crashing waves and the smell of fresh melted chocolate wafting through the front doors… this was my castle. We had arrived at the Movenpick Resort at Aihn Sochkna on the Red Sea. We checked in and on a tiny piece of paper at the front desk I saw how much the rent on my castle cost. Evidently it takes $320 a night to turn me into a Princess. IFSA covered the entire trip (well, it was included in the tuition for the semester). After admiring our room and the breathtaking view from our balcony, Sarah and I wasted no time in making our way towards the crystal clear, giant infinity pool overlooking the Red Sea.

On My Balcony

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What a God-send. The temperature was just right. The water cool. The sun warm on my skin. Nothing to do, no where to go, no one to answer to. I read a little, but mostly just chit-chatted with Sarah and then Matt as well once he met up with us. At one point, I played a couple games of volleyball, what a relief it was to finally be doing something active again! It felt like we had only been lounging around outside for seconds before the sun began to set over the distant mountains. The breeze picked up, it was time to go inside. Once we were cleaned up and presentable we walked into the dining room to discover a jaw-dropping assortment of food. They had EVERYTHING. Filet mignon, grilled chicken, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, a salad bar, pasta, a bread bar, a desert table. I nearly cried I was so excited. Six or seven plates of food later, I was stuffed thicker than a turkey on Thanksgiving. Full and content, I went to sleep early and didn’t set an alarm for the first time in forever.

When I awoke, it was to discover a completely different scene outside my window. No longer was the sky a brilliant azure blue. Instead, it was a dreary yellow-gray. An ugly, dark, beige. The wind was gusting strong enough to bend palm trees and create waves in the smooth pool.  A dust-storm. Not to be confused with a sandstorm. Despite the weather, Sarah and I again tried our luck at the pool. The beach was nearly impossible with the wind whipping up the sand so strongly, yet we still tried to part the Red Sea during the storm. We toughed it out by the pool for awhile. The dust particles were minute so it didn’t hinder our vision or anything, we barely even felt it. We swam and read and I did some sleeping but eventually the wind grew too strong and the challenge wasn’t worth the effort. There were also a whole bunch of giant locusts that were making things a lot less fun haha. We went back inside and watched movies on the television in our room the rest of the afternoon. At around 7 we attempted to watch the Ole Miss vs. Wisconsin basketball game but technical difficulties left us “score-watching” instead. Ole Miss won in the end, to the chagrin of Sarah… who happens to go to UW… figure the odds of that one haha. During dinner, Matt and I had a bet to see who could eat the most food with Sarah acting as head judge. I won :) After dinner Matt and I became a little nostalgic for America so we watched Remember the Titans on his laptop. Shortly following I went to bed singing “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” haha.

The next morning, to my excitement and frustration.. the sky was back to its perfect blue. Taking advantage of the sunshine, our last two hours were spent on the beach of the Red Sea, or more accurately, in the water. It was incredible! Not particularly warm but it was so full of salt that I didn’t even have to move my legs to keep afloat. It was such a unique and odd sensation. The most perplexing feeling was when I tried to dive down to the bottom, only to discover that I couldn’t.. the buoyancy of the water acted like a life vest around me keeping me from sinking down. If only every body of water could do that :) All too soon we were hurried out of the water, checked out of our rooms, and ushered into the back of our van. Six long hours later we were back in Alexandria, our mini-vacation from reality over all too quickly.

That break was incredibly necessary and I am beyond grateful for the escape it provided. Now I am preparing to buckle down for the final month of classes. Time is flying by so quickly! I hope I can keep up with it! It is hard to believe today is already Easter. Wow. I skipped classes to observe my 2nd favorite holiday, as if to prove my point from my last blog post, I have never been in a position that I couldn’t observe a religious holiday when I wanted to. It took hours upon hours to track down a church, that is not only celebrating Easter today (and not on Coptic Easter), but is celebrating it on a Sunday (instead of Friday) and in English. After a great deal of research and phone calls and emails, I finally tracked down a beautiful Anglican church not far from Kafr Abdo. Matt and I went together for mass then stayed for the pot luck lunch immediately following. I hope to go back every Friday for mass. The people were beyond gracious and networking is never a bad idea 😉

In conclusion- Happy Easter! Thank you for reading and I look forward to my next blog post!

Ma’a Salaama!!

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Life of Moses (Part 1)

Time March 25th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

These last four weeks have been such a blur. Time is flying faster than I thought possible. It seems like yesterday that I was saying goodbye to my Mom and my boyfriend, Todd, at the airport.. yet here it is, almost April! I want to apologize for not blogging for so long. In the last four weeks we have had 2 excursions/ trips, including Spring Break. Not to mention I’ve had to squeeze in mid-semester presentations & the accompanying homework load, two Naval Science Exams, class registration for Ole Miss, workout classes, thesis work, and now I’m even in contact with a Naval Intelligence mentor to help prepare me for my future career. Oh! And I’ve had to do this with no wifi in my apartment. That’s right, zero wifi… because of this the girls have essentially migrated to the boys’ apartment and overloaded their bandwidth. The internet is slow but at least I have access… when the electricity doesn’t go out, that is. About every other day our electricity will go out for 1-2 hours in the evening which really puts a damper on attempting to blog. Essentially, I have every excuse in the book. haha. But I’m here now! And I am so excited to tell you about my life in Egypt these past few weeks!

So I left everyone off right before I departed for my Spring Break. That trip was by far the craziest, most spiritual, most wild, jam-packed adventure I’ve ever experienced and it is by far our biggest trip of the semester so I want to do it justice by focusing this blog solely on it. I will discuss my latest trip later this week or this weekend. Promise :)

In Front of Philae Temple

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It all started on February 28th.. we rolled out of bed and into a van for the three hour ride to Cairo. There we roamed around a bit and found an AMAZING restaurant called RAD. The food there is really good with close to American portions but best of all? Cheap. My spaghetti cost 10.50EGP, in other words, about $1.50 haha. We weren’t in Cairo long, however, as the next morning we were up and at it at 4:15 in order to be on time for our 7am flight to Aswan. The flight was only an hour long but once we landed I could have sworn we were in a different country. EVERYTHING was desert.. or flowers. I have become so accustomed to the city life of Alexandria and Cairo that I nearly forgot that the majority of Egypt is VERY rural. We took the scenic route from the airport and it was great to see so much of the beautiful country-side. It almost felt like home :) Eventually we made our way to the docks where we boarded our floating home for the next 4 days. A Nile Cruise Ship! It is practically a mini version of a Carnival cruise. There is a swimming pool on the top deck, a HUGE lounge/bar complete with alcohol and a strobe light, a couple gift shops, a small gym, and a sauna. The first thing we did after arrival was  throw on our bathing suits and head up to the pool deck. Meals on the cruise ship are the BEST. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many fresh vegetables.. I nearly cried I was so excited. haha. Following a quick lunch we all boarded a bus and were taken to see the Aswan High Dam and then we found ourselves at a tiny harbor. We were hurried into tiny boats and just when I was about to ask what was going on.. BAM! Philae Temple. By far my favorite temple (and I have seen A LOT of temples here), Philae Temple is situated on its own island at the edge of the Nile. Surrounded by wild flowers and standing in stark contrast to the perfect azur sky, the ancient limestone is COVERED from floor to 50 ft (probably higher) ceiling with hieroglyphs. I caught myself with my jaw dropping in amazement sooo many times. I could have stayed there for days but we were mercilessly shuffled along. It was like a perfectly preserved ancient museum. Something straight from a post card. And the stories and explanations of the hieroglyphs easily could have never ended. But all too soon they did and we were back on the bus, then back on the boat.

The following day consisted of more sunbathing and great food and tea before we hurried off to see Kom Ombo Temple, very similar to Philae Temple, although with a twist as this one admired two gods. If I remember the tour guide correctly it is the only temple in Egypt (maybe anywhere) that does this. This temple admired the God “Set” (and his brother), who happens to be a crocodile and so there was a giant crocodile pit beside the temple and a museum with mummified crocodiles.. creepy haha. Following the tour and dinner, the cruise put on a Galabiyya (a long robe lots of Muslims wear) party. It was SOO much fun!! I bought one especially for the occasion. If my camera battery hadn’t died I probably would have taken a hundred pictures. haha

The following day began before dawn. There was just so much to see! Edfu Temple, Karnak Temple, Habu Temple.. too many hieroglyphs and stone sculptures to keep track of! Sadly, after awhile the shock of the beauty and history of the tombs faded, especially after seeing so many right after one another. When I got back from the long day I crashed for a bit and then laid out by the pool trying to soak up what was left of the late afternoon sunshine. Later that night, taking advantage of our last night on the ship, Sarah and Matt and I ordered the signature drinks of the ship – Mai Tais and a King Tut. Totally worth the 60 pounds.. I highly recommend the Mai Tai 😉

Next morning we were supposed to go see the Valley of the Kings/ Queens BUT unfortunately, the Revolution has caused serious ramifications for the tourist industry in Upper Egypt and many folks down there now can’t make ends meet. The day we tried to get into the Valley, those struggling people were demonstrating against the high rent prices of local shops as a result of loss of tourism to the area. I found it all rather ironic… but regardless, we spent the day looking at the Luxor Temple and a couple small underground tombs. One thing I will say for this area too; its really depressing how these ancient wonders are being exploited, taken advantage of, and abused by the local population looking to make a quick buck. Every time I turned around I was being haggled or harassed by peddlers of Chinese made souvenirs. They made me really not want to spend much time there at all. Luckily (and sadly), we had a plane to catch so we couldn’t stay long.

Back in Cairo I began to start packing for the next portion of our trip when I noticed I was missing a good chunk of my jewelry… For anyone traveling to Egypt in the near future, take a lesson from me, don’t leave ANYTHING sitting out you don’t want stolen. It’s just too easy and too tempting for the people here. With the economy in such shambles I’m surprised the cruise ship maid didn’t try to take my laptop or my camera too.

The next morning began my favorite part of Spring Break.. the last minute, crazy, rash, ridiculous but TOTALLY UNFORGETTABLE trip to St. Catherine in Sinai. An eight hour bus ride later we found ourselves in a little Bedouin camp settled right at the foot of the mountains called Fox Camp. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling in the region. Its 30EGP a night per person, the tea is free, the food is spectacular, and the company is truly hospitable and wonderful. The following morning after breakfast we began our day by exploring St. Catherine’s monastery. What a place. Nestled right at the foot of eight thousand foot mountains, in the middle of Islamic Sinai sits a breathtaking yet humble house of Greek Orthodox worship. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see it, otherwise I would not have believed it. It was a little bit of Christianity (and of home) in an otherwise Islamic dominated (and enforced) region. I didn’t realize how much my religion meant to me until I couldn’t practice it anymore. When I walked in I was offered a candle and time to pray… the offer shocked me as I realized how much I missed being able to do that in a church. Being there was certainly an eye-opening experience for me as I realized how much I truly missed being able to practice my religion, I missed being Catholic…. its amazing all the little things we take for granted as an American.

From the monastery we took a taxi to the town where we enjoyed a great Egyptian meal. After we ate we decided to begin our climb to the top of Mt. Sinai, without a guide. Thankfully, we didn’t get very far before a friend we met in town offered his help. I’m pretty sure he was sent by a guardian angel because thanks to him we were able to get to the top before sundown (we started later in the day than we should have). Even though we had to, quite literally, rock climb some of the way up, I wouldn’t have traded seeing that sunset for anything. Sitting there, 8,000ft up watching the sun fall behind dusty mountains… it is beyond description. I felt like I was on top of the world. Above the world. Like this small moment was but a glimpse into what heaven could be. Despite the cold and my sore feet I soaked up the moment there so close to God and everything I believe in. That moment there changed my faith forever. I can’t explain it but now I don’t have doubts, I believe. :) Coming down the mountain only reinforced that faith. With such little planning, our group had forgotten the essentials.. like a flashlight. Climbing down 8,000 ft in the pitch dark in my TOMS with no water or food… I swear the only thing that got me down safely was my guardian angel. It certainly wasn’t my awesome hiking skills.. haha. That hike was by far the dumbest thing I have ever done, yet, it was an experience that I am beyond grateful for. I do recommend future travelers to bring a flashlight though. haha.

The next morning we were headed back to Cairo and then on to Alexandria. Looking back now it is hard to imagine that just a week could change a person so much, but it did. Its hard to imagine anyone could learn so much about themselves in such a short amount of time, but I did. The history I witnessed was overwhelming – whether standing in front of the ancient temples or on top of the world. Reliving the life of Moses turned out to be an incredible Spring Break. Definitely beats Panama City 😉

Thank you for reading and I look forward to telling you more about my adventures here in Egypt soon!

Ma’a Salaama!

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Trip to SIWA!!

Time February 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

I am so sorry this post has taken so long! This past week the curriculi in every one of our classes here in Alexandria suddenly picked up. I had a debate to prepare and to participate in, countless pages of Islamic History to read, a very tedious powerpoint presentation to throw together and present, not to mention hours worth of Foosah corrections and language exercises. In short, I didn’t get very much sleep these past couple weeks and I apologize that I kept ya’ll waiting! So here is the story of our Siwa trip, as promised.

What all the fancy tour books and google images of Siwa fail to mention, is the “7” hour bus ride from Alexandria to Siwa. Oh, and not just any “7” hour bus ride, it leaves from Alexandria at 10 PM. And this isn’t Concord Coach Lines or a Greyhound, this bus is jam packed to the point where a reclined seat is inches from the face of the unfortunate soul stuck behind it. This bus also takes multiple stops… not for gas mind you, but for smoking breaks, usually more than 20 minutes each. This bus is also not the perfectly silent buses Americans expect, the driver of this bus very loudly plays the singing of the Quaran over the loud speakers… the entire trip. Passengers also talk on cell phones, keeping the ringer on, naturally. But despite all these things, the worst part is the temperature of the bus. In an attempt to counter-act the desert outside (or maybe as a result of the freezing temperatures outside at 1 in the morning) the bus is FRIGID. Sarah and I huddled the whole time in a weak attempt to obtain any form of heat.

Somehow, however, we all survived and at nearly 6 in the morning we arrived in a dark, deserted intersection in Siwa. Eventually, we made our way to our hotel for the weekend, the Dream Lodge. Upon our arrival, the hotel owner demanded we talk money. It was the longest twenty minutes I have ever experienced, and that’s saying a lot when you run 5k cross country. haha. But he did leave and in no time the three girls were cuddled in one big bed (that we had formed from two smaller ones). Before I knew it the sun was high in the sky, it was noon-time in Siwa.

At 2 pm our adventures began. All of us hopped into a jeep and made for the giant Western/Libyan Desert. The views were remarkable. Positively breathtaking. We drove around for a bit just soaking it all in when abrubtly we stopped and were expected to get out of the car at the top of a GIANT dune. Mr. M went to the trunk and grabbed a two foot long piece of wood with two loosely tied rubber footholds: a true Egyptian sandboard. Standing at the top of the dune with my feet slipping haphazardly on the smooth surface I had never felt so scared or so excited, especially not at the same time. The short ride was so exhiliarating and nerve-wracking.. and fun :) The only thing that kept me from going a second time was the immensely daunting task of climbing back up the very large sand dune. The first time was all that my calves could handle haha. From there we hopped back into the jeep and continued driving across the sand. We were taken to two springs in the middle of the desert, one cold, one hot. They were, quite simply put, beautiful. Two true oases. Before we knew it the sun was beginning to disappear behind the mountainous sand dunes. Watching the sun set in the middle of the desert was beyond words. Breath-taking, inspiring, beautiful.. nothing truly does it justice.

The Desert :)

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Shortly following nightfall we were driven to our final destination for the evening. Our campground in the middle of the desert. We were provided our dinner by candlelight, which promply went out. The food I ate tasted wonderful, especially the soup, but not knowing exactly what I was eating (thanks to the pitch darkness) made me very nervous to eat a large portion. I ended up going to bed hungry and I regret not trying more but I am thankful I didn’t wake up with any stomach troubles. After dinner we danced alongside a couple Berber musical group performers for a while then made our way to the hot spring pool where the boys braved the cold air in order to swim in the hot tub comparable waters. Out in the desert the stars are unimaginable. While sitting around the hot spring we gazed upon the Milky Way and were only limited by the number of constellations we could remember.

The following morning we left our camp to head back to the Dream Lodge. We arrived there exhausted but content. With little else to see or do in Siwa, the entire day consisted of sitting by the mineral pools, soaking up the warm rays and reading some great books. It was a desperately -needed afternoon that flew by all too quickly. I read until the words of my book were the same color as the sky and then we were off to dinner and back on the bus.  We arrived back in Alexandria Saturday morning a little after 5:30 am.

I will never forget my trip to Siwa; the beautiful desert landscape, sandboarding, the sight of the sun sinking behind the dunes, my night in the desert, or the simple majesty of a day by the pool. Despite the bus ride, it was a great memory that I will always cherish!

Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Ma’a Salaama!

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My Apartment and Other Egyptian Things

Time February 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

As promised here are some pictures of my lovely apartment! I share the place with two girls, Sarah and Emily. We each have our own bedroom. Emily was lucky enough to acquire the master bedroom which has its own bathroom. Sarah and I share a bathroom. Our apartment has everything a college student needs to survive: A giant fridge, a dishwasher, a washer & dryer, a big dining room table for study sessions and.. a BIG screen tv. The only thing missing is a DVD player and an XBox haha :) In all seriousness, though, the apartment is beautiful, huge and simply perfect. I feel like an Egyptian Princess lounging around the apartment!

The Front Entryway

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Also, after a month of living in Egypt I have come to understand some things about the country that I wasn’t expecting. Some things I have noticed/ observed that I didn’t know (or I assumed incorrectly) before living here include:

1.) Egypt is NOT a third world country. Before coming here I pictured Egypt as a dirty, cosmopolitan-desert mix with malaria and typhoid lurking around every corner. As a result I brought a boat load of hand sanitizer and even got myself a small water purifier. A bit of advice, don’t bring that much hand sanitizer. Just a small Germ-x or Purell bottle is fine. A refill tub is not necessary and it weighs a ton. It turns out Egypt has soap and water and paper towels that are quite useful.

2.) In regards to water – IT IS NOT THAT BAD. I use it to brush my teeth, I cook soup with it (not -boiled), I wash my hands with it and I have not had a single problem as a result. With that being said, I do recommend a small water purifier because I like to make Gatorade every now and then and it is VERY HANDY when it comes to washing fruit or veggies (which we eat a lot of every day).

3.) Even though Egypt is not a third world country, its sewage system is still pretty fragile. As a result, no toilet paper is allowed to be flushed, it should be placed in a waste bin/ small garbage can next to the toilet. And even more nerve-wracking is that nearly every public restroom does NOT have toilet paper. Let me repeat NO TOILET PAPER. I didn’t realize this coming here. Not only is it odd but it is the worst feeling ever (at least for me) when I realize there is no toilet paper in sight. So, for those of you like me, I HIGHLY recommend bringing a bundle of little tissue packets. They usually have them in the trial/ to go section at walmart or Rite-aid. They will quickly become the most essential item in your backpack, especially during orientation.

4.) I will never get used to driving around the city. The traffic is unimaginable. Take downtown L.A. or NYC but delete all traffic lights, all stop signs, all crosswalks, and every traffic related rule you learned in Driver’s ed. There are no lanes, cars make their own lanes. And I can’t count how many times I have been driven on the wrong side of the road. If there isn’t another car there, its fair game. Coming to four lane intersections is fascinating, no stop signs, no traffic lights. Drivers just honk to let people know they are there and that they are moving through. Honking has never taken on such an important role in my daily life. I had always assumed honking was related to road rage or solely to get the attention of another driver. Here, however, honking provides the ONLY rules of the road. One short honk – I’m here, Two short honks – I’m coming through, One Long Honk – MOVE!, etc. I often wonder if the honking system derived from ship signals (the horn and whistle).

5.) There are no rules when it comes to being politically correct here. There is literally no word in the Arabic language for politically correct. Taxi drivers will ask what your religion is and why. The cook in a roadside restaurant will ask your opinion of Morsi, of Obama, and of Bush (actually happened to us). It is quite startling and I never know the “right” answer to give. Generally the person asking is just curious and doesn’t mean anything by it, it’s just a friendly way to start a conversation. Egyptians don’t talk about the weather or use a compliment, or other American small talk topics, as a means to start a conversation. But sometimes, with the Revolution on everyone’s minds it’s just better to answer with an “I’m not sure about him”, or “I can’t decide”, or just “I don’t know”.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading! Tonight I am headed to Siwa with the gang. I promise to take lots of pictures and to tell you all about it!

Ma’a Salaama!

 

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Protests and Demonstrations in Egypt

Time January 31st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

I promised an update on the demonstrations/ protests that have been occurring recently so here it is. I have structured it like a timeline so the events of the last week are easy(ier) to follow. I will try to explain all the events as simply and correctly as I can, but this is just my interpretation. For more “reliable” resources here are some links to try:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21224643

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2013/01/201312672536410414.html

Timeline:

Thursday January 24th: On this day, Muslims in Egypt celebrated the birthday of Prophet Mohammed. In the evening, fireworks lit up the sky and cast light over small groups of protesters anxiously awaiting the anniversary of the Revolution. As much as I could tell, the protests were light and non-violent. This day marked the beginning of our week long “house arrest.”

Friday January 25th:  The second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. From the moment we woke up, our eyes were glued to the television screen. News coverage of the major protests went all day and covered the happenings of numerous cities across the country.  It started out small and quiet in every major protest location but come the end of the morning and after the noon prayers the crowds swelled. Flags waved, signs were raised, the yelling and chanting were so deafening it was nearly impossible to hear the commentary over the noise.  Violence broke out in many places. Stones were thrown, tear gas was used, cars (and I think buildings too) were set aflame. Watching the people pour into the streets over the course of the day and hearing the chants of the still desperate protesters brought up in me an odd sense of awe. I had never witnessed anything of this sort, it was almost inspiring to see and hear the cries for “Bread, freedom, and social justice”. A small part of me wanted to join in the fight against injustice, it was as if I was brought back in time to the American Revolution, taking a stand against the forces of tyranny, but this is not America, this is not “tyranny”. This is Egypt and it is their fight and I respect that whole-heartedly.

Saturday January 26th: Protests celebrating the anniversary continued on this day across all of Egypt. They maintained slightly smaller numbers on this day compared to Friday but generally the protesters still emphasized the end of President Morsi and the faults of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Today the verdict of 21 Port Said fans was given (see below). It didn’t make as big a news as the continued Revolution anniversary protests, however, it would quickly become bigger and more important than anyone could have imagined.

[youtube width=”550″ height=”400″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnqLemAmpso[/youtube]

 

Sunday January 27th: For those that don’t know, in February of 2012 , 74 soccer fans were killed at a game in the city of Port Said. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the murders and numerous anti-government conspiracy theories have gained a great deal of support. As far as I understand it, 4 minutes before kick off the hometown fans of Port Said ran from one side of the stadium to the other and began throwing rocks and shooting “fireworks” at fans from the visiting team of Cairo. Very quickly, things escalated and there are reports that many Port Said fans were using makeshift knives and even swords against the Cairo fans. When bystanders of the violence tried to flee, the stadium doors had been locked shut. In the end, 74 perished and approximately 300 hundred were injured. The controversy/ conspiracy theories stem from the fact that A. Every fan had to walk through metal detectors, so how could weapons have been snuck in, B. The police stood by and did not interfere in the violence as it was occurring, and C. The doors were closed and locked before the game had even started. To put another twist into the whole thing, it is understood that since the Cairo “fans”/populace played such a huge role in overthrowing Mubarak, it is possible that Morsi’s entourage could have feared another uprising and so instigated the whole thing. Regardless, when the verdict was read on Jan. 26th condemning 21 fans to hang on the noose, the streets in Suez and Port Said and even in Cairo went CRAZY. Everything became extremely violent and destructive.

Monday January 28th: The violence in Suez, Port Said and Cairo continued. Ismailia and Ramses also quickly become very hot spots. With the death toll of the weekend climbing over 50, Mohammed Morsi declared a State of Emergency in the three most violent provinces of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. With this he also enacted a curfew, requiring every person in each city be off the street by 9 pm or risk being placed under arrest. With this news, the country was yet again rocked to its very core. The most despised thing about Mubarak’s regime was his declaration of Emergency Law (which lasted for 30 years), wherein police are given the authority to arrest people on sight and police brutality is allowed to run rampant, unchecked by any government officials. Protests yet again erupted across the country, and Port Said continued to display its disregard for Morsi by STARTING its protests at 9pm, right at curfew.

Tuesday January 29th: Port Said, Ismailia and Suez protesters continued to demand the release of the 21 condemned soccer fans as well as the downfall of Morsi, who by now had gotten the attention of the entire country. Protests continued to start at 9 to demonstrate the blatant contempt for Morsi and his government. Other cities across the country began to make public demonstrations, displaying anger and frustration with the new regime. Funerals of protesters that died (over 20) demanding the release of the sentenced soccer fans, occurred throughout the city of Port Said. Thousands gathered to carry the coffins through the streets.

Since I was not able to watch the news tonight I won’t comment on tonight’s activities but my best estimate is that things are not calming down in the East (Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia) despite the Emergency Law and the curfews. More people are beginning to question the events of the soccer match and many more are questioning Morsi’s “Mubarak-Like” reaction to the events that have transpired since. The fate of those sentenced is still unknown as their case COULD be overturned by a high ranking Sheik (I think is the proper term) if he feels they are not deserving of death. But more trials of other fans are still to come and parliamentary elections are also just a couple of weeks away.

For now, the four of us remain under “house arrest”. Although the protests in Alexandria have not been especially violent or attracted large numbers, they don’t want us wandering too far from the university or our apartment and weekends will continue to consist of watching the news or movies until further notice. I pray that things will settle down soon and the truth will come forward.

I hope all of this was helpful! Please feel free to comment with any questions.

Thanks for reading! Ma’a Salaama!

 

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A Week in the Life of an Egyptian Study Abroad Student

Time January 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

Emily, Sarah, Matt and I have successfully completed our first week of classes!! Wa hamdu lilah! For this post I want to give you a snapshot of a day in the life of a student here (so far). Turns out it isn’t “much” different than attending class back home. :)

Our first day of classes had a comical start. We locked ourselves IN our apartment. As an extra security measure we locked the door from the inside but when we tried to unlock it, our keys wouldn’t fit in the keyhole. It wasn’t until Matt came to “save us” that we were able to get out. Our first classes start at 9 everyday but in order to get there on time we generally have to leave from our apartment at 8:15. That is one major difference from my college that is quite frustrating… I am so used to rolling out of bed thirty minutes before classes start. Another thing too, you have to look semi decent when attending classes. I try to dress as I would going out to the mall/shopping or the movies back home. Cute but it can still be comfortable. Make-up isn’t necessary, but I find I feel much better when I’m wearing it than when I’m not. From 9 until 11 we attend our first class. Yes, all classes here are 2 hours long. The majority of my teachers like taking a 10-15 minute break at the halfway point, but sometimes they don’t and we go the whole way through. You get used to it pretty quickly. What is harder to get used to is the 30 minute lunch break. That is hardly enough time to walk to a cafe, order, eat, and get back. The last couple of days we have skipped lunch and instead had quick snacks from the apartment or at Cinnebon (YUMM). After break is another two hour class and then we’re done for the day. All of my classes are going to be in the same room. The structure is set up really similar to high school which is hard to get used to after being in college for so long, but it’s coming along.

Matt and Emily enjoy a snack at the Cinnebon near our classrooms. The second floor overlooks the Mediterranean Sea   The two of us also enjoying Cinnemon rolls atop the Cinnebon near the University

The three of us enjoy a snack at the Cinnebon near our classrooms. The second floor overlooks the Mediterranean Sea right across the Corniche.

My daily diet haha A staple of my daily diet haha :)

Oh! My biggest complaint about the program thus far, all of my classes are ONLY with IFSA students. Not to say I don’t enjoy Emily, Matt and Sarah’s company, but I thought I would at least have ONE class with real Egyptian students. We haven’t gotten our language partners yet but once we do, I fear I am VERY dependent on them in meeting any Egyptian students. If he/she doesn’t want to socialize or take me to events with his/her friends, I will never meet an Egyptian my age. That makes me very nervous and disappointed. How am I supposed to conduct thesis research on the youth of the country if I never meet one? In shah Allah, everything will be fine.

In celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday we had treats and a performance by a Whirling Dervisher       Another picture of the Whirling Dervisher

In celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday we had treats and a performance by a Whirling Dervisher following classes on the 23rd.

On a brighter note, here’s a funny story from this week: One day we were blessed with an hour and a half for lunch so we decided to wander a bit and see what we could find. We ended up discovering a new restaurant that offered mozzarella sticks. I was so excited. I went up to the cashier to order a bean (fool) sandwich and some mozzarella sticks, but naturally, she had no idea what I was talking about. I used as much Arabic as I could but in the end I just agreed to the sandwiches she kept thinking I was trying to order. They weren’t. I ended up with some type of chicken with mayo and ketchup in a pita and cheese and green tomato and pickle on some sandwich bread. They were pretty terrible, but luckily, it only cost me about 60 cents so I wasn’t too heartbroken haha.

After class is another 35 minute ride back home. Tip: The cab ride is ten pounds every trip (about $1.25) so be sure to bring or get A LOT of small bills. We have struggled to find places that can make change and usually when we exchange money/ use an ATM we only get big bills. Once home we usually eat an actual lunch or grab a snack. Then we work on homework, blog, watch a movie, etc until 7 when we head to the gym downstairs for our daily fitness lessons. That is probably the best decision we have made thus far. As I have said before, it’s so expensive but it is such a stress relief and fun (and can be a hard workout)! Following our workout we enjoy dinner, either made or ordered in. One AMAZING difference between home and here.. everything and I mean EVERYTHING is delivered. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, random cafe’s, pastry shops, sandwich places, restaurants.. all offer delivery. By ordering over the phone we can avoid the traffic and the taxi fares, which is definitely something to consider when traveling anywhere. Sidenote: food here is generally very cheap compared to American standards. For example, a giant bowl of spaghetti with garlic bread cost me 25 pounds, which is about $3.60. Following dinner its more hw or a movie, then bed.

Our group at a restaurant right along the Corniche enjoying some lemon with mint

Our group at a restaurant right along the Corniche (a typical late lunch/early dinner) enjoying some lemon with mint

Our attempt at making Nutella Cake. We wanted something sweet to go along with our movie night

Our attempt at making Nutella Cake. We wanted something sweet to go along with our movie night yesterday (Jan. 24th). Just an example of some of the things we do after class.

It has been a pretty hectic week but overall I am looking forward to the rest of the semester. I worry about the Islamic Culture and History class, however. I fear that although I will learn a lot, the discussions will get very emotional. We’ve only had two classes and I’ve already had to bite my tongue on a couple of instances…we’ll see how the rest of the semester goes. But I am really excited about my Politics and Media class, which revolves entirely around the Egyptian Uprising/Revolution. And speaking of the Revolution, today marks the 2 year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. Currently we are all glued to the tv, not knowing what to expect. We heard some demonstrations earlier today but they were too far away to see. I will post later on what happens by the end of the weekend. For now, it seems peaceful, but anything can happen. I am not scared for my safety at all, we are in a very nice neighborhood and Westerners aren’t currently being targeted. It is actually very exciting to be here “in the middle of” everything. I hope all stays peaceful and a transparent, secular democracy wins the day.

I promise I will keep everyone updated on what happens! Please stay tuned for that and for pictures of the apartment!

Ma’a Salaama!

 

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Arrival in Alexandria!!

Time January 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

What an amazing last couple of days!! First and foremost, the apartments are BEAUTIFUL!!! I will post pictures as soon as I have time to clean the place up a little (might be awhile haha). But in all seriousness, the way the living space is decorated makes me feel like an Egyptian princess. Huge china cabinets, a large dining room table with room for 8, a big screen tv, chandaliers, long victorian style curtains… it’s like living in a palace! I love it! :) The hardest thing about moving in was deciding who got which room (we each get our own bedroom). I, unfortunately guessed the wrong numbers and ended up with the smallest room but “mish mooshkilla!” The room has a beautiful wide window that overlooks the city and I get to wake up to the brilliant sunshine every morning. Plus, since I pushed the two smaller beds in the room together I now have one giant bed :)

After (and including) the initial move-in day, we were offered non-stop presentations by TAFL center teachers and University faculty as well as others. The presentations covered everything from safety and transportation in Alexandria to the ancient history of the city, to scuba diving (more on that later) and underwater archaeology. During the last few days of orientation we also had crash courses in Egyptian dialect. One class in particular was not very pretty… Essentially the teacher had us feeling like everything we had ever been taught was wrong. Emily and I were beyond frustrated.. but we survived. :)

Other than class and presentations we have survived other adventures… like our first trip to the grocery store. That was quite an experience. For any of you considering studying abroad in Egypt, I highly recommend bringing (or getting a care package) of peanut butter and bagels and granola bars. The staples we take for granted in the US are just not available here at all, or are completely different than what you would expect. Best example, the only pb available is creamy and you can literally pour it out of the jar haha. And especially for milk lovers.. be wary, the milk is verrry different. I recommend trying the chocolate milk boxes, they are delightful :) In some of our downtime we watched movies or tv (sorry no Netflix here!). Trying to interpret the Arabic movies has been so much fun and it really has provided much needed relaxation and entertainment. The last few days of orientation we also have had cooking lessons from a truly talented Egyptian chef, explored the Alexandria Museum, and played in the Mediterranean Sea. As for the museum,  it was much more put together than the one in Cairo, but it was nowhere near as big and it still struggled (very comically at times) with its Arabic. One of the more funny examples was “libs” instead of “lips”. I have officially decided that I love museums, I have a huge passion for history and to see some of those artifacts was beyond incredible. I was mesmerized the whole time the tour guide was speaking. I could have spent all day in there reading every single placard, but sadly we were off to the next thing. The next thing turned out to be a tour of the grounds of the former palace of King Farouk… absolutely breathtaking. I wish we had been able to get more pictures of the gardens and the palace but we were sidetracked by the Mediterranean Sea. Funny thing about that, we were wandering towards the beach when we realized there was a large gate blocking our entrance. Without hesitating I climbed over and continued towards the beach.. Guess I really am an Ole Miss REBEL. :)

DSCN0196  DSCN0200

All of us in front of the Alexandria Museum, grounds of Farouk’s Palace

DSCN0214  DSCN0217-002

The group at the beach and the ladies striking a pose along the shore

And then.. we had FREEDOM (for a day). It felt so great to do the things we wanted, when we wanted. We slept in, meandered to a local restaurant, perused the bookstore nextdoor, and, my favorite part, signed up for our gym classes!!! It’s pretty pricey but the classes are SOOO much fun. Yesterday we learned belly dancing and today we were doing crossfit and tomorrow is pilates. I am incredibly excited to attend classes every night and to continue making friends and to get in shape!

With freedom of course, comes responsbility, and this morning we began the real reason we are all here.. classes. With the first day successful and behind me, all of my anxieties are gone. Classes are just the four of us (thus far), the teachers have been great and the courseload is challenging but reasonable. We also have only a 4 day week every week (YES!!!) so that makes the prospect of traveling to other places and exploring that much more probable and inviting.

In short, the last days of orientation were busy but informative. Classes are great so far, more to come tomorrow and the rest of the week. My downtime consists of movies, chit chatting, and working out in the gym downstairs. And most importantly, I am so very happy, and so very excited to get the school year underway. There are so many things I look forward to!

Thanks for reading, and until next time,

Ma’a Salaama!

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PICTURES!!

Time January 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban ya… everyone!

I promised pictures and here they are! The following are pictures from my last days in Cairo including my trip to see the Dervishers, Khan al Khalili, the Pyramids and my camel ride! Hope you enjoy!

Day 4 (1)  Day 4 (44)

The Khan Al Khalili Market in Downtown Cairo

 

Day 4 (20)  Day 4 (19)

The Whirling Dervishers performance also in Cairo

 

Day 5 (45) Day 5 (78)

Day 5 (3)  Day 5 (37)

The pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx (Which was much smaller than I expected)

 

Day 5 (14) Riding a Camel!!! 😀 I look like such a professional

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Camels, and Pyramids, and Dervishers, Oh My!

Time January 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

Wow! The last four days have been such a whirlwind, it’s hard to know where to begin! I suppose I will take it day by day. Warning: My wifi is not cooperating today so there won’t be any pictures. I’m so sorry! Hopefully I can upload a bunch next time!

The last two days in Cairo were by far my two favorite days of my trip so far. On the 12th we explored the GIANT marketplace called Khalil Al Khalili and it was AWESOME! Picture the street scene from Aladdin and you’ve just about got it! Little shop after little shop filled with real silver, gold, jewelry, souveniers, scarves, dresses, spices, you name it! Everything was so colorful and bright, it was mesmerizing. I felt like I had been transported back in time. I loved it! While I was there I bought a couple small things, gifts for family and souveniers for myself (after a great deal of haggling). After exploring the marketplace for a couple hours we were ushered into this giant old building for a Whirling Dervishers performance. It was unreal! The performers play music and spin, but not just for a couple seconds.. they spin for half an hour or more at a time.. That would make me so dizzy! I was so impressed. The Dervishers are a Suffi group that put on shows displaying the techniques they use to communicate with God, music and dance. It’s very intriguing and fun to watch! You can Youtube it if you are interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnunfciSr7k

The next day was the day I was looking forward to most about coming to Egypt… SEEING THE PYRAMIDS!! After our morning Arabic class we jumped into the vans and headed for Giza. It was NOT at all what I was expecting. First, everytime you see the pyramids it looks like they are off somewhere deep in the desert.. not true. They are quite literally right in the middle of Giza. The city grew around them and keeps inching closer and closer. When we were driving you didn’t see them until all of a sudden they were right in front of you. I was also kind of saddened by how (relatively to the US) little care was taken to protect the area and make it a nice tourist destination. Horse, camel and donkey poop covered the walkways. Nothing was organized. Hagglers strolled from person to person begging or selling cheap little comodities. There was also a great deal of trash everywhere. It seemed the only rule that was enforced was no climbing on the pyramids (past a certain point). But despite the sad state of its surrounding area the pyramids themselves were stunning. I wish we had had the opportunity to go inside, but I think that will be saved for next time. Oh, also the Sphinx is wayyyy smaller than I originally thought, it looks so large and majestic in the photos but not true.. its about half the height of the pyramids and no where near as long.  Nonetheless, it was still awe-inspiring to see! The camel ride was by far the best part. No safety equipment, no safety brief, no nothin’. We just climbed on and held on tight and hoped we wouldn’t fall off. Those things are HUGE. I never fully realized just how tall they are. And for those of you that are curious, evidently one of those camels is worth $2,000. And no, they didn’t try to sell their camels to buy me haha.

That would be our last night in Cairo as the next day we left very early for Alexandria. (Finally!) First impressions, the city is SOOO clean compared to Cairo and the architecture is absolutely incredible. Italian, Greek, Roman, French.. every style combined on the same building or starkly different styles right next door to one another. It’s amazing to see. The Mediterranean is also gorgeous and bright blue. I hope to go for a dip one day!

These last two days have mostly been filled with Arabic class, presentations, introductions, walking around our apartment and learning the basics about Alexandria. I am sad that we haven’t done much exploring yet but I suppose it can wait until a good three day weekend :) We also met with all of the TAFL center staff including our “babysitter”, who we like to call Mr. M. He basically accompanies us everywhere and tells us where to be when and what we can and can not do. It sounds like a lot of rules but he is really a great guy and he’s fun to be around. Also, I am grateful for him since I am so unfamiliar with everything here, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes/ can translate. The best example of this was our first trip to the grocery store yesterday. We were driven to this massive mall which contained a huge supercenter. We spent two hours shopping with Mr. M. He told us all about the good brands to get and the bad. He translated descriptions/ingredients of certain items (Sarah is allergic to tree nuts and Emily is gluten free so that became a big help very quickly). Tips for shopping here: 1. Don’t buy American brands. They are soooooo incredibly expensive. For example, a bag of cheetos was 10 US dollars. And there is almost always an Egyptian equivalent that is just as good but half the price. 2. Beware that not a lot of things you assume would be available are. For example, they have never heard of bagels or peanut butter here. They simply aren’t the staples of the area. Going along with that 3. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try something new. And lastly, 4. Trust your guide!! They have been doing this all their life and they know the prices and what is good, what’s not, etc. If you think you have different tastes, I can tell you, you probably don’t.

Sorry this is such a long post but there’s so much to tell! When I get some free time (which is few and far in-between during orientation) I will upload pictures of and write a post about our apartment … prepare to be jealous! Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have!

Ma’a Salaama!

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…And the Countdown is Over!

Time January 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

I have finally made it to Cairo! Still a little jet lagged but in good spirits and just so excited to be here. The apartment here is wonderful. It is very spacious and has a ton of nice furniture and all the gizmos and gadgets required for cooking. So far I haven’t spent more than 2 minutes in there, however, as the staff here keep us well fed and our daily schedules have us constantly going out for food (don’t worry its all paid for so far!)

The giant living space of the apartment        Day 3 (15)        Day 3 (17)

The giant living space of the apartment, the beautiful kitchen, and my bedroom.

The first place we went was a floating restaurant along the Nile, what an AMAZING view and way to be introduced to Cairo. The food was incredible and everyone was so friendly. Despite how tired I was, I didn’t want to leave the table. I could have sat there and chatted all night.

This is the view from the table where we ate. The whole restaurant is indoors but giant windows along the side made the view possible.

This is the view from the table where we ate. The whole restaurant is indoors but giant windows along the side made the view possible.

My first impression of Cairo is that it is a very large version of NYC’s Chinatown combined with the poverty of Mexico, splashed in a beige color and then all converted to Islam. What I find most odd is the way people dress. No wonder there are no good pictures to google for “Egyptian dress” or “Women’s clothing in Egypt”. The whole spectrum is covered. Women walk around covered head to toe in Hijab’s, burkas, and the long black robes, only exposing their eyes, right next to women of the same age wearing tight skinny jeans, high heel wedges, cute blouses, lots of make up, and expensive (looking?) jewelry. The menswear also covers the full spectrum from robes and sandals to jeans and hoodies complete with big sunglasses. The noise here is unbelievable. The streets are always emitting honking, shouting, sirens, dogs,  or humming motorcycles. Oh and don’t get me started on the traffic! It is almost indescribable. No stop lights, no lanes, to traffic signals… no nothing. Just sticking your nose out and hoping you don’t get hit. The smell of burning plastic/rubber also hangs in the air and the smog is pretty bad. So far my body hasn’t been affected but the hazy, dark clouds are very easy to see against the bright blue sky. The weather is cool (50s) but generally sunny. No complaints so far :)

Day 3 (1) A smoggy day but still a pretty view outside of my balcony

The morning after we ate along the Nile we were greeted with a 9 am Arabic class. The combination of a very fast paced two hour class and still being very jet lagged took every ounce of energy I could muster to stay focused. But the teacher was incredible and I am already using Egyptian colloquial terms and grammar after just one class! Following class, we had two lectures. One on Egyptian life the other on the recent Revolution. The revolution lecture was fascinating. Hearing the story being told by such a passionate Egyptian gave me chills. I took very good notes and quoted the professor word for word on numerous occasions. Hopefully I already have one great resource for my thesis! Today we had more presentations. One on health in Egypt and then one on safety while abroad by Mrs. Chris. Both were very helpful and despite being a bit depressing, we did finish on a good note. Excursions! Mrs. Chris didn’t go into too much detail but we have some FUN trips planned and I am sooo excited! One includes a cruise down the Nile River… for 4 days! And of course, a trip to the Valley of the Kings/Queens. Sunday we are planning the excursion I am most excited for.. THE PYRAMIDS!! Including the ever popular camel ride. But before I get ahead of myself, I failed to mention the highlights of today.

Following Mrs. Chris’ presentation we hopped in a van and headed to the Cairo Museum. One Word: WOW. The place was huge. I could have spent days in there and still not seen everything. Unfortunately, we only had two hours. I was slightly disappointed because I am such a “history junkie” but I can’t complain because the fees were covered by IFSA and the tour guide was beyond amazing. I learned so much that it would take pages to write it all down. But in all, if you are ever in Cairo, go there. It isn’t like American museums. Things are out and very touchable. There are no ropes. Just millenia year old statues and sarcophagus’ sitting in the middle of the giant hallways. No guards are around either. It was almost unsettling just how much freedom we had to look and touch. After the wonderful trip downtown we came back to the office to watch an Egyptian band perform live Arab music. I was very impressed by their skills with the instruments but I think I’ll stick with Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts. :)

Day 3 (5)         Day 3 (8)

On left: Miriam, Matt and me in front of the entrance to the Cairo Museum and on the right: the Egyptian band plays music for us

In all, my first three days in Egypt have been very successful. Many of my stereotypes have disappeared and I am learning a great deal about what it means to be Egyptian. Hopefully this trend will continue for the next four months! Thank you for reading, and until next time…

Ma’a Salaama!

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And the Countdown Begins… Blog Post #1

Time January 2nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Marhaban!

Hello friends, family, future Butler students and everyone!

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Elise Luers and I am a Junior at the University of Mississippi. I am currently pursuing a double major in International Studies and Arabic with a minor in Naval Science. I am a second class Midshipman within the Ole Miss NROTC Rebel Battalion and I also competed for the Ole Miss Cross Country and Track & Field teams my freshman and sophomore year. I am also a proud member of the Nu Beta Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi. Although I attend school in Oxford, MS, my parents and many friends lie far northeast in Concord, NH. But enough about my background. This blog is not a resume. This blog is going to tell a story, a real story. It will discuss the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the confusing, and the exciting. This is the story of my journey. The countdown for this journey is well underway. In just under ten days I will be 5414.04 miles from home… In Cairo… Egypt.

In 9 days I head for Cairo and shortly following a ten day orientation there I travel to my final destination at the University of Alexandria where I will be studying Arabic, Egyptian dialect, Islamic Culture and History, and Politics and Media. I have filled out all the paperwork, applied for all the scholarships, requested (and received) my visa, secured my health insurance, dotted all my “i”s and crossed all of my “t”s. The time to leave is approaching at a rapid pace. So what exactly is going through my mind 9 days before I wave goodbye to everyone and everything? 9 days before I venture “alone” into the unknown? 9 days before the United States becomes a distant, unreachable, piece of land on some map?

The only close metaphor I can muster that best explains how I feel is the feeling a competitor gets before a big (HUGE) game or match. Whether that be a State Championship or Regionals, Nationals or even the Olympics. This is the big leagues. Its the months (or years) of preparation, of studying and strategizing, of practices and work outs. All the sweat, all the work… for this one moment. You don’t know what will happen. It’s the butterflies in your stomach as you lace up your cleats. It’s the rush, the tingling in your blood as the crowd roars when you step on the field. It’s the nerves and the feeling you might not be able to breathe with so many people looking, watching, scrutinizing. You worry you might choke, that you might not be good enough, that you forgot your lucky underwear. Everyone has given their opinion; your coach, your parents, your teammates. All the ideas are swimming in your head, a little fuzzy but you think you have a general grasp of it all. Then before you know it, everything goes eerily silent. The whistle moves to the refs mouth, the gun is raised, the finger approaches the buzzer… the seconds pass like hours… suspense hangs in the air… the crowd holds their breath…

Right now I am in suspense. I fear I might forget that one piece of advice. That one word in Arabic I should have memorized. I worry about all the items I have bought for my trip. Are they enough? What if I leave something behind? You can drive yourself crazy with all the “What ifs”. My bags are not packed. In my mind I am constantly editing and re-editing what is necessary. The weather in Egypt in January is nothing like what it is in May. How does one prepare for that? Beyond the material items I worry about my family and my friends. Will I change while I’m gone? What if something happens to any of them while I’m away? Or me? There is no way to prepare for that. My biggest fear is that I will get too lonely while I am in Alexandria. That I will sit on my computer and skype my family and my boyfriend everyday and won’t explore, won’t take chances on my own. That I will want to crawl in a ball and cry because it is simply all too much.

Right now, my biggest advice (and what I keep convincing myself) is to trust yourself and let go. Know and understand that you can’t control everything. You can’t pack for every scenario. You ARE marching into the unknown, but its the unknown of the big leagues. You can achieve so much. You can learn so much. You can do so many incredible things and talk to so many wonderful people. Get excited! Get pumped! Turn up the pregame music! Soon the whistle will blow and before you know it the race is over, the final buzzer sounds. I am trying to take it all in stride, to grit my teeth and accept that I will get lonely, I will miss my boyfriend, I might pack completely wrong. But I want to enjoy this moment before the storm, that half a second when anything can happen. The trip right now is anything I make it to be. I can still win the game. I can still make this journey successful, inspiring, and fun. It is indescribable when I dream of at all that it can be. I imagine all the stories I will tell, the food I will try, the friends I will make, the adventures I will go on. And so, I will ignore the butterflies, I will trust my training, grit my teeth, embrace the rush and enjoy the emotional jitters of the big moment to come. Knowing that nothing has yet played out, its still up to me how this trip unfolds. I will watch the hand move, the gun rise, the finger fall with confidence and anticipation. I will continue my countdown by putting a smile on my face and stepping to the line standing tall despite the thumping in my chest, my shaking hands and the butterflies in my stomach.. waiting for the whistle to finally blow…

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