The orientation was amazing. There is simply too much to write about so I will highlight the most remarkable things that I experienced. I will start with the food. I can confidently say that I have been overfed and that I have experienced Egyptian hospitality. I do not know if this is the norm, but nearly every meal after breakfast consists of 6 appetizers, drinks, 3 main course dishes, dessert and coffee/tea. I cannot seem to get enough Turkish coffee these days (ah-wah masboot) and they (collective they) cannot seem to tire of feeding me tahini.
Besides the food, the orientation has offered me several opportunities to explore Egyptian historical monuments. So yes, I have seen and been inside the pyramids and ambled by the sphinx; and yes I have seen King Tutankhamen’s casket along with several well-preserved mummies; and yes I have prayed in Saladin’s Mosque; and yes I have been in the Citadel at Alexandria etc etc. This is all well and amazing in its own right, but what stands out are the people.
First and foremost, most Egyptians think that I am Egyptian. Whenever I tell that I am not Egyptian, the second thing they tell me is that I must be Arab. When this too has failed, they still insist that my face is Egyptian (khalass!). For the most part, the locals I have tried to talk most with are the Taxi cab drivers. Most taxi drivers here love to talk. I normally start by telling them where I am from and that I like Egyptian music; typical response: Oum Kulthum! Ya Helwa! Then we play the heritage guessing game (aren’t you Egyptian?) and then the religion guessing game (but you are Muslim yani?) and finally the “what I like about the US” game (Jimmy Carter!!).
We also received several lectures ranging from topics of health, Egyptian music, ancient Egyptian history, archaeology, women in the Arab world, and Islam. We got a lecture from none other than Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities: Dr. Zahi Hawass.
A rather flamboyant personality with an inclination towards stardom (and abhorrence for cell phones), Dr. Hawass explicitly schooled us on the recent groundbreaking archaeological digs he was leading and the arduous tasks he undertook in order to become the best in his field. I asked him what his greatest disappointment was, and he answered without batting an eyelid “I have none”. After the lecture he commissioned a pass that will allow us (as a group) into any historic site monitored by the Council of Antiquities including all Museums for free! This tremendous gift has enabled several of the trips on which we went.
IFSA Butler held a photo contest among us Egypt students. I somehow managed to win! Below you will find the pictures that I submitted. This is ironic considering the number of times that I forgot my camera! The photos were judged by Chris Harrison, Dr. El Komi and very kind (and famous) photographer whose name I have regretfully forgotten…I am sorry about this; as soon as I can find his name out I add it without fail. The prizes were: a wonderfully painted ceramic mug and what appears to be a wooden-ebony in-layed box of dominoes.