Hope everyone is well. Lately, I have been gathering my observations on different aspects of Egyptian culture. It should not surprise you that many of the things I will mention next I have encountered on the metro. So it all started when I was on the metro about a week ago and it happened to be the day that I was extremely tired and the metro was extremely crowded. I was able to make it on the metro onto the women’s cart and started stealthy observing the women and what they did. There was this young lady in a “nikab” and she apparently was even more tired than me because before I noticed she was snoozing on my arm while standing. Shortly after a lady stood from her seat and the same lady snoozing on my arm took the opportunity to be seated. I then proceeded to move further in to the cart. An older woman who had been sitting for some time saw that I was carrying my bag full of books and she grabbed my bag from by arms and put it on her lap. She carried my bag all the way until I got off the train. She wanted to help me however she could. I had seen women do this before but never to me. It was an experience because no one does that on the T in Boston. Another interesting aspect of Egyptians on the metro is that if there is an old lady (like a grandmother) so to speak and a man gets on the train with a small child, she will offer to have the child sit in her lap. This gesture is so that the child can also rest while on the train. Just these two examples show how family oriented, kind, and wonderful the people here are. I know that it is not just because they are Egyptian but also because Islam has a great impact on how people live their lives and instilling in them virtuous traits.
Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler
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Against the advice of my madre here, we booked it to Montezuma right after her flight arrived (delayed, of course) by means of a taxi, a ferry, and a bus. So if you add the regular car and plane she rode in earlier in the day, Emily utilized 5 different modes of transport over a period of 15 hours to finally arrive at our destination. Wow! Remaining needless to say, it was worth it. Starting off the weekend with a boat ride and snorkeling trip in the crystal-clear waters of Isla Tortuga was an excellent decision in spite of the fact that it left us with some nasty sunburns on our backs that nagged us the next couple of days. But as became the unofficial theme of the trip, “it was all worth it.” The next morning found us on the backs of horses strolling along the beach in some equatorially ferocious sunshine. The heat was such that Emily’s horse actually made the decision to take a quick bath… with her still on him! Thankfully everything was okay (save maybe a few nerves for a while) and the rest of the trek was less eventful. Later in the evening we went on a zip lining tour that included a 30-minute break to enjoy the two waterfalls there. The first was a nice 10 foot drop with a rope swing farther down; very enjoyable. Then we became aware of the second that added over 30 more feet of elevation, and the adrenaline of the jump quadrupled as well. While just the view was enough for Emily to enjoy of this one, I for one was not going to leave such an offer un-jumped. The following day we were back in San Jose to prepare for our next adventure.
Being the man of many obligations that I am, I had to give a 20-minute Spanish presentation on Tuesday morning (the day Emily turned 21), but immediately following the acing of that exposition, we were on our way to Manuel Antonio! To celebrate Emily’s special day, we went to a nice restaurant called ”El Avio’n” that gave us delicious food and drink, all taken in with a beautiful view of the sunset. On Wednesday we headed to the famous national park where we encountered all kinds of cool animals, including white-faced monkeys again, sloths, lots of lizards, a rodent we couldn’t quite classify, and too many insects to count. We were going to hire a guide, but we ended up just occasionally piggy backing on those that did and we figured it was just as helpful. The beaches were gorgeous, the views incredible, and the sweating profuse. The Mangrove Tour we tried on Thursday was a bit of a letdown, but it’s hard to complain about a boat ride in Costa Rica that involves even more white-faced monkeys (literally in and on our boat!), sightings of other animals like snakes, an anteater and falcon, and knowledge gained of the surprisingly interesting mangrove there. Friday held the most fun-filled (and expensive) activities for us though. We started off on the whale- and dolphin-watching tour, which unfortunately involved sightings of neither whales nor dolphins, and enjoyed a freshly caught lunch after a little snorkeling. This time we were sure to apply extra layers of sunscreen on our already-peeling backs. Later, we unknowingly picked the perfect way to end our trip with a private zip-lining tour at night in the forest that was teeming with wildlife (sloths, tree frogs, spiders, hawks, INSECTS, etc.) we got a chance to spot with the headlights on our helmets. Not only was the tour a blast, but they fed us a delectable dinner afterwards (from which we took home a convenient bag of salsa for our chips later), and all this was with a discount that made it cheaper than the tours without dinner! That always makes you feel good.
Despite the fact that my best week is probably behind me, I look forward to the future with optimism! If the rest of my weeks are even a fraction as awesome as this week was, I’m going to have a great rest of the semester. Back to work with writing essays and reading articles for now, but Semana Santa is right around the corner, and there’s a good time waiting in Panama with my name on it!
As you all know classes started which means being busy with homework and stuff. The usual academic responsibilities. Nevertheless, this does not mean I can’t find time to do other fun things. Actually, in my Egyptology course I had to present on Merimda Ben Salam, El Badari, Dier Tasa, and Naqada I II and III, pottery at the Cairo Museum. I had been to the Cairo Museum twice before, but this time it was a completely different experience for several reasons. First of all I entered through a different entrance than everyone else because I was following prof. Hassan who has special connections at the museum. Through this special entrance I got to see some artifacts that were not out for display. Following the secret passage way, my presentation started. This was even more fun not because it went super well and my professor said I did excellent, but because when I was giving my presentation funny things happened. 1)Tourist at the museum who understood English were gathering around me as if I was a tour guide, 2) Since everyone mistakes me for an Egyptian, people were confused as to why I was speaking English, 3) People were smiling at me after realizing I was giving a presentation for class. As you can see it was a fun experience, even more so because I knew details about Egyptian history that I had no previous knowledge of.
Apart from the museum, I visited Cairo Stadium and watched Al-Ahly play against Talaea El-Gaish (???) which was an experience in itself because of the fans. Also I went to see “My Name is Khan” at City Stars. I recommend everyone to see this film. To say the least there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema. But of course the fun does not stop with the end of the movie, after it finished I got to meet AFROTO one of the players of Al-Ahly I had seen playing at Cairo Stadium.
The title of my last entry, “FINALLY,” which told of my adventures in Guanacaste that I forgot to mention also left me with a wicked wristwatch tanline on my distal left forearm you can almost tell time with, reminded me of the word ”FAMILY.” This train of thought led me to realize that I haven’t yet blogged much about the family I’m living with here in Santo Domingo that has been such a big part of my experience here. So, I’m going to do that now. It’s sure to be shorter, and maybe sweeter, than the last one so you can get back to procrastinating somewhere else out here in cyberspace.
My madre, Marielos, could not be sweeter. She is a stay-at-home mom, like the large majority of the mothers here in Central America I imagine, whose focus on cooking, cleaning and keeping house allows me to enjoy high-quality meals, frequently cleaned laundry, and a beautiful yard without so much as lifting a finger. Of course, I’m used to lifting my fingers, so I make sure to do my part when she allows it, which primarily comes in the form of washing the dishes and making my bed. Due to the fact that I eat more than any other student she has had before (out of the 20!) and have nothing to show for it in terms of weight gain, she is convinced that I have a parasite in my stomach that requires immediate medical attention. So I try to eat less when she’s around and sneak more later when she’s not, but I can’t keep living like this for much longer! She is incredibly patient with me in my Spanish-learning process and is always helpful in teaching, involving, and having fun with me. We really have a good time and laugh together a lot.
My padre doesn’t like to laugh so much. Don Luis is almost always out of the house either working at his business or finishing the thesis for his PhD in his office upstairs. I guess working from 7:30 am to at least 8:30 pm every day doesn’t give him much reason to laugh. He really is a nice man and makes sure to correct me when I err in speech (which I appreciate, but sometimes I feel like he’s just waiting for me to make a mistake, you know?). He certainly is an ample financial provider for the family, but he leaves much to be desired in his provision of fatherly love and display of emotion. Don’t tell him I said that though, or he might love me even less than he already doesn’t.
I have 3 hermanos. One of which is married and lives out of the house (Esteban, 31 years old), another who will be married and out of the house in approximately 8 days (Julio, 27 years old), and another who is currently “looking” for work and taking classes at UNA at night (Armando, 20). They are each very friendly to me and fun to be around. Julio actually takes me to school in the mornings because UNA is on his way to work, so that saves me about $1.50 a week in bus fares! I rarely see Esteban, but Julio and Armando really make an effort to involve me with their friends when it’s possible. Like, among other things, I got to come along with them to Julio’s bachelor party a couple weekends ago, which was really fun, so I really couldn’t ask for much more from them.
Overall my living experience is very pleasant and I am being well-provided for and taken care of, even beyond what I expected. Having internet access, hot water, a nice room, laundry service, and 3 meals (plus an afternoon cafe) a day is hard to complain about. Add that to the fact that it comes with people who are enjoyable to be around and you’ve got yourself quite a Costa Rican homestay!
mid-day. We were ready for some beach action. After a delicious lunch of casado and checking into our adequate (but air-conditioned!) hotel, we were on our way to the highly esteemed Playa Flamingo 6 km down the road. We were gonna take the bus, then after we considered its unknown schedule and ruled out a taxi we decided to walk it, which made us realize we instead wanted to rent some bikes, which allowed us to conveniently catch the bus on our way to the bike place… and we finally made it! The waves were incredible, the view astounding, water refreshing, nature invigorating, and sunset unforgettable. It’s tough to exceed the expectations we had, but it just might have happened. Again not wanting to take a chance on a bus, we unintelligently decided to hike the 6km back in our sandals under the stars. It gave us some good quality time, but at the price of some unpleasant irritation in unmentionable places.
The next morning we woke up bright and early at 5:30 am to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. Of course, it’s not quite the same from the Pacific Ocean side, but it was still definitely worth the interruption of REM. The beach of choice that morning was none other than Playa Conchal, where the sand is replaced by seashells and frowns are replaced with smiles. Seriously though, there were seashells instead of sand – millions of them! This unique trait, along with the crystal clear water and lack of excessive tourism, leaves me no choice but to regard Conchal as the coolest beach I have ever visited. Our empty stomachs pried us away from the clutches of the beach’s coolness, but after a quick breakfast and a bus ticket purchase, we were right back on it until check out at noon. Julian had to leave that Sunday for classes on Monday, but I was smart enough to avoid scheduling classes on Mondays, so I got to stay another day!
This time I was gonna head less than 20 km south where cheaper lodging and access to new beaches awaited me in Tamarindo (or as locals call it due to a recent increase in the presence of caucasian tourists, “Tamagringo”). Not long after my arrival to my hostel, “La Oveja Negra”, I was off to Playa Negra. Unfortunately, there are no buses that travel to PN and a taxi ride is $30 each way, so I was forced into renting a bike for the rest of the day to make the 18 km trip. But this wasn’t just any trip. We’re talking about 16/18 of this road being unpaved; to the extent that this “road” has been deemed the 7th worst road in all of Costa Rica by my traveler’s guide book, “Lonely Planet.” Unfortunately I didn’t read that part until after the fact, so I found out the hard way first. Enduring some unfortunate component problems with the bike seat and handlebars of my beach cruiser, I finally made it to the refreshing surf of PN a solid hour and a half later. Being made aware that another notable beach, Playa Avellanas, was 3 km down the road on the way back to Tamarindo, I left PN after 30 min to take in another postcard-worthy sunset at PA. Knowing a rough trip was ahead of me, I bolted out of there as soon as the sun was no longer in view to take advantage of what little natural light I had left. I knew I had more shoes on my feet than street lights I would encounter on the all-but-deserted dirt road I had to ride back. I was provoked to such desperation that I began half-heartedly waving down the cars passing me by, and not to no avail! The couple who stopped were unfortunately driving a full car headed for their home a mere 2 km down the road I still had about 10 left on, so I reluctantly thanked them for their efforts and decided I was making it back on my own, or not at all. Thankfully it was the former, and I had never been so happy to jump into a community shower back at the hostel.
To avoid losing your interest in what has almost turned into a novel, suffice it to say that the following day consisted of 2 non-awesome events: 1) I woke up to find my 2 of my 4 small loaves of bread, 6 of my 12 slices of ham and a half bag of chips (36 of 72? I dont know…) were missing from the taken-too-literally “community” kitchen, and 2) I lost my really cool “Pura Vida” towel on… (enter the 4 reasons why this day was ultimately AWESOME): 1)Playa Grande! waves, beach, surfers, 2) I bargained the price of the bike rental down from 10.000 colones to about $9 (less than half!) due to the problems I had with it and the fact I didn’t sign a sheet saying I would be responsible for any damages, 3) the bus to San Jose arrived on time at 2 pm, 4) I had a humongous dinner that was even more humongously delicious waiting for me in my house upon my return. This will not be the last of my trips to Guanacaste, but it was a heck of a first!
Things have been a whirlwind since Tabasco. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and breathe. There’s always been something to do: soccer games, beach, time with the grandkids, leading class, birthday parties, and on top of it all, trying to squeeze in homework. Out of all the activity during the last two weeks, two anecdotes stand out in my mind.
The first one starts with my friend asking me who the kid with curly hair and white teeth was, as he had asked her to go with him to eat ice cream. I told her who he was and warned her that he was “creepy” in the sense that he did not understand the meaning of friendship and just jumped straight to showing up in random places where you were going to be. Needless to say, she went to eat ice cream. A few days later when we were on the bus, bumping our way back from school, she tells me that her ice cream friend keeps annoying her and it was all I could do not to say “I told you so”. As we are crossing the park a few blocks from our homes, I see a familiar silver beetle parked on the side of the road and see our “friend” standing next to it holding a gorgeous sunflower. An awkward exchange occurred between the two of them before I was able to create a not-so-obvious excuse of how we needed to be home to eat lunch with our host families.
I tell this anecdote because this is exactly what my host father did to woo my host Mom, Rebeca. After telling her this story, she sat down and began to reminisce about her courtship. Licho, she said, would just show up in random places or at random events where she happened to be. He was always quiet she said, but always there. It’s really something only I can appreciate, but knowing the two of them, I could just see Licho standing there quietly while Rebeca laughed, gossiped, and joked with her girlfriends.
Anecdote two: A few days ago my friends invited me to a cantina for lunch. While I am not a huge beer drinker, buying one beer is accompanied by a bunch of botanas (snacks) and I figured an afternoon with friends outweighed the snack food I was about to eat. On our way there we ran into one of their old teachers who quickly told us she would love to accompany us. “A teacher in a cantina with her students?!” I thought. “This would never happen in the U.S.!” But needless to say we are not in the U.S. And honestly, things like this should happen more often. Through events like this, the teacher can relate to her students with a level of friendship that allows her to provide guidance and advice. In the classroom, she is tough, and expects a lot of her students. But outside of class, she just enjoys meeting her students where ever they are in life – many times meaning cantina. I would love to have such a close relationship with my professors in my university, but there is always a very defined student-teacher relationship. The next day, this same maestra drove us to Progreso, a pueblo on the beach, to speak to high school kids about majoring in literature. Afterwards we ate wonderful servings of ceviche before passing the rest of the afternoon playing soccer on the beach. The best part was, she played too. It was one of my favorite days so far in Mexico. I hope that I can share this concept – demand for excellence in the classroom while still being able to maintain a normal friendship with one’s students – with my teachers in the U.S. I truly believe that this form of relationship allows for much more growth and development and really gets the student comfortable, and more importantly, excited to learn.
Classes have finally started and so far it seems like it is going to be an exciting semester. Being an international relations and political science major it is nice to be studying something new and different like poetry. All of my professors have been astonished that I decided to take courses not related to my area of specialization. Both Dr. Fadwa and Dr. Younma thought I was a literature major or English major so they were very surprised. Anyways, after explaining my reasons of wanting to end my undergraduate career with something different the general reaction was “we like you because you have guts to try new things!” After hearing this I assumed that students in Egypt generally stay in their area of study all four years of their bachelor’s degree. Apart from poetry classes I have Arabic class which is great because I am eager to learn the language and comprehend everyone when they speak to me. I also have Egyptology which I am really really really excited about because I will learn all of the secrets the ancient history of Egypt holds. Finally, I have Aspects of Islamic Culture which I am going to learn everything dating from the Pre-Islamic era to after the Abbasid (I think this is how it is spelled) era.
Apart from classes I have done other fun stuff like visiting the Giza Zoo. This zoo was crazy in a good sense. I got to see so many different animals but what amazed me the most was that there were zoo keepers at almost every different animal station offering for children and adults to feed the animals. For example you could feed: the elephant peanuts, the pelicans and seals fish, the bears and monkeys fruit, lettuce to the llamas, among many other animals. But wait; of course there are more extraordinary things like when a man approached me and asked if I would like to take a picture with a lion and then proceeded to whip out a brochure with pictures of this little girl sitting on a lion cub. I decided to pass on the opportunity given that even baby lions have sharp teeth and claws.