Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

On Iguazu, Mendoza, & Salta

Time November 22nd, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Argentina, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

I realized I haven’t talked about any of the trips I’ve been on during my study abroad trip. I’ve been exceedingly blessed to have gotten to explore so much of Argentina. Buenos Aires is lovely and chaotic, but it has been nice at times to leave the pollution-filled air behind to travel to sparsely populated provinces. All of these trips feel like centuries ago, so I am going to try and generally summarize them instead of providing a lot of details.

My first trip outside Buenos Aires was to Iguazu Falls, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. I went with some of my closest friends here, and it was super fun! That trip was definitely a blast because of the nature and companionship. I would say the hostel we stayed at was one of the best I’ve been to in Argentina.

Speaking of hostels, it’s really interesting how the quality of hostels vary so widely. You really never know what you’re going to get. Some are $10 a night and basically 5 stars(as far as hostels go) and some are $10 a night and really feel like you’re getting the absolute minimum for what you paid for. Isn’t that interesting?

Continuing on, Iguazu deserves its name as one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world. I was in awe most of the time. The surrounding town was  quaint and had a lot of nice murals that my friends and I took pictures next to. I remember going to a Mexican food place that was decidedly not Mexican food. Well, they tried.

In Mendoza, I got to ride a horse! That was my highlight. I also got to eat bread and olive oil, which is always nice. Wine tastes the same to me no matter the brand, so I must admit I got a little bored on the wine tours. Still, I’m glad I got to go on them. I got sick on the bus coming back from Mendoza which was the opposite of fun. But overall that trip was really fun.

Salta was a lot of exercise, travel, and beautiful scenery. I don’t even know how to describe Salta/Tilcara. I think, in this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words. I remember coming back very dusty from that trip. I miss the sun and the dry heat of Salta. In Buenos Aires, when it’s hot, it’s sticky and humid.

Well, that’s a not-so summary of my experiences. I’ll end by saying I had an amazing time in all 3 places and am definitely blessed that I had the opportunity to travel to 3 very different places within Argentina.

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Sprang Break Pt. 2– Cairo

Time April 16th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I GOT TO SEE THE PYRAMIDS AND RIDE A CAMEL AT THE SAME TIME!

This was one of the happiest moments of my life! It was something that when I was younger and learning all about the history of Egypt was something I thought would only be a dream. I smiled the whole time I was on-top of my camel, Jacques, and did not want to dismount after our ride. The Pyramids are overwhelming! Reading the dimensions is one thing, but standing next to them you realize what a feat constructing these monuments was. They are huge and something that if you have ever have the opportunity to see in person you must take, you will not be disappointed. The Sphinx is really cool too, but underwhelming. I was wanting it to be the size of a pyramid, but it is tiny when compared. But, still very cool and allowed me to get a great Instagram picture!

Getting to Cairo was long and stressful and I wasn’t even driving. Driving in Egypt like I said earlier about Alexandria is a whole world away from the U.S. and the UAE.

Another great monument we were able to visit was the Cairo Citadel, view the link for more information about the Citadel. Interesting fact, they chose the location by placing meat around the city and they chose the location where the meat rotted last. This how they knew the location had a fresh breeze. The Citadel is perched high above the city of Cairo and offers an amazing cityscape. It also contains the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. I was able to use my acquired knowledge from one of my classes, Arabic Architecture and Design, to describe the beautiful Ottoman mosque that was constructed. The mosque was designed by the same designer as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the similarities are very obvious. It is a beautiful structure in honor of Muhammad Ali and is now his resting place. Muhammad Ali is considered the founder of Modern Egypt, more information about him here.

I am now back in the UAE on campus and AUS. The trip to Egypt flew by and I am sad that it is already gone. There is so much in Egypt that I missed while I was there. I would love to visit The Valley of Kings, Luxor and enjoy the Nile. With that all being said, I hope one day to return and be able to enjoy the rest of Egypt.

Thanks again to IFSA-Butler, Dr. Mohamed El-Komi, Moataz, Mariam, and Kiri for putting together this amazing trip and providing airfare, travel and food. It was an amazing experience and I am forever grateful!

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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

Picture 1 of 9

 

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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…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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Making Papyrus

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This is a video of someone making papyrus at a papyrus shop. I shot it in 3 2-minute segments because of upload constraints on the blog, and then discovered how to reduce video size. So I spliced them back together. Might be a bit choppy.


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Camel Riding

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Two videos spliced together. One is of Marissa and Lauren and I riding a camel while the bedouin tries to steal my hat. The other is of us being stupid around the camels.


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Bellydancing!

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Bellydancing! by

Here is a bellydancer at the resort we stayed at at the Red Sea. She dragged a bunch of different people up to dance, including Jon and James Blond, and Cory & Simone. Blond can’t dance. In his defense neither can Jon but Jon’s enthusiasm makes up for it. Kasandra kept telling us about her bellydancing skills, but she never got up and proved it. I think she’s exaggerating her skills.


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Making Carpets

Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Making Carpets by

This video is in a carpet making factory where we watch small nimble child laborers make carpets to sell to rich stupid Americans. The guy told us the children have good working conditions. They get a break every 15 minutes a day, the factory teaches them a trade and helps them pay for school, and a bunch of other positive things. In any case the video is cool.


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Our First Car Ride

Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This is our first car trip from the airport to a restaurant a few blocks from the apartments the Cairo kids stayed at. Gives a good idea of the Cairene skyline and a bit of traffic.


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Jon

Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Jon by

Here is a video of Jon singing. I’m sorry for the poor quality I had to reduce it pretty severely to successfully upload it. In any case he brought this guitar with him everywhere. It was lovely. Any place Jon was there could be live music. When he traveled to Greece with James Blond he brought his guitar and a change of clothes and nothing else.


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Videos! Finally!

Time January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Videos! Finally! by

So I managed to think of posting these AND access to quality internet at the same time. Shocking. Most of these videos I realized are rather short and pointless. I think I started in Egypt with good intentions but the inability to upload anything killed my desire to take video. So I have a lot of random nonsense. I can only upload one video at a time to the blog. Which is cumbersome and frustrating. But here is the first one.

This is a German Ossuary in El-Alemain. It was built in the style of a medieval fortress and they buried their dead stacked like cordwood 2 meters deep. This was less moving but still pretty awesome. In a guest book the last people to write before us had found their grandfather and had written that they were glad to finally know where he was, and that he was resting in peace with his comrades.

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Welcome in America

Time January 10th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So I’m home now and have been for about a week. The trip home was easy enough although there was some fog over Madison, so the pilot performed an instrument landing – a dangerous and risky operation. But he pulled it off and I survived. My fiancee and two of my best friends picked me up from the airport and took me home, where the rest of my friends met me with pizza and beverages. I crashed out pretty quick though. I passed through 8 time zones on my trip home from Egypt which means that I was up for an extra 8 hours on the 30th. It was a long day.

I haven’t had much time to reflect on being home though. The last week has been insanely busy. My friends and I have been doing a bunch of gaming and then I took Amber down to Bloomington, Indiana, where she attends graduate school. Now I’m just hanging out in the library while she gets some work done.

I haven’t had much dietary stress – which we were warned about. But then I also haven’t gorged myself like it sounds some of the other kids did (one of them gained 5 pounds in 4 days!!). I have enjoyed good old American cuisine. At a restaurant I went to for lunch they served bacon wrapped in sausage and called it “Wisconsin Sushi.”

I haven’t really experienced reverse culture shock exactly. I do miss my Egypt friends and its strange to think that some of these people who I saw every day and got pretty close to aren’t going to be there anymore when I go to class. Its a little odd to wake up in the morning and not see Rob and Trevor at breakfast, or visit with the girls between classes.

I tried to cross the street last night ‘Egypt Style’ but stopped myself when I remembered that the little hand wave will not stop a wall of cars in America the same way it does in Alexandria. I also threw a little rant when I realized that my bottle of water cost me 15 pounds. I think the biggest “culture shock” experience for me has been that people just aren’t as interested in my experiences as I thought they would be. I saw a friend for the first time in four months that I hadn’t spoken to at all while I was abroad and he didn’t ask me a single question. That threw me off a bit. I also have to stop myself from injecting “Egypt this” and “Egypt that” and “this one time in Alex” and the link into conversations because I don’t want to turn in to a one track record. I have to watch my language a bit too. A selection of Arabic expressions that had worked their way in to our vocabulary are essentially meaningless here. My friends don’t understand Arabic and they have no context for these little phrases that give them meaning. I also have to remember that people can understand me again. I had become accustomed to talking about people or making observations about whatever because the likelihood of anyone understanding me was very low. Here I have to remember not to do that.

My mom asked me an interesting question about my culture shock experience in Egypt. I don’t think culture shock is really the right word for it. There were things I had to get used to, like crossing the street or bartering for goods. The way things operate in Egypt are less organized. Even waiting in a line to buy a train ticket is more like a shoving match than an orderly process. But for me it was just a different way of doing things so I just tried to adapt.

For me it wasn’t culture shock so much as a break down. After Sinai and my dysentery I was just done. On the flight home from Sharm I was snippy and ranted all the time about how much Egypt sucks. I skipped every class except one that week. I was just in a black funk and it lasted about two weeks. After that I was really uninterested in school. I was just fed up with the country and was ready to come home. I know other people had similar experiences. I know Josh flipped out on a guy at a restaurant. Lauren and Helen both raged at Egyptians. Everyone has an experience where something random just tipped the scales and they snapped and everyone snapped in different ways.

Its really hard to say how Egypt has changed me or what I’ve gotten out of the experience. I’ve only been home 8 days and I think it will take some time to really internalize everything that’s happened to me.

Attached is a video of some guys fishing in Alexandria. I was going through my videos and I realized that I kinda stopped bothering about the same time it became clear that the internet in Egypt was too slow to support video uploading. So the videos I do have are kinda random. But I’ll try and throw the rest of them up online ASAP.


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Getting out of Dodge

Time January 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So I’m sitting in the boys apartment in Cairo. I go home on Wednesday. I’m on the home stretch. We’re all ready to go I think. I can’t speak for the girls who are left but us boys are excited. We like to complain about Egypt and I’m very ready to leave. But its more because I’m excited to go home and see my friends and family than any kind of desire to leave Egypt. There is certainly a lot I’m going to miss and I don’t think I’ll be able to evaluate the true impact of the program until I’ve had some time to decompress.

Our last week in Alexandria was .. anticlimactic I think. Although there were some fun moments. We said goodbye to our teachers. We took our final exams and good riddance to a particularly awful professor. We had to say goodbye to some good friends and that was sad. We all had finals but I know us boys didn’t study very hard. We were just finished with school and ready to move on to the next phase. We payed for it a little too. The ameya exam was brutally hard. I walked out of there in something like shell shock. But our fusha exam was much easier and more fair than the midterm I thought. Our history and culture exams were… well. They were. They’re done now.

The train ride down last thursday was insane. Rob and I got to Sidi Gaber earlier than anyone else and we watched a man almost die on the tram. When it pulled in to the station something like 2/3 of the people there tried to pack in to this thing. They were crammed in like sardines and people were still trying to push more bodies onto the cars. I saw people hanging out of windows, holding on to doors for dear life. There were people on the rail coupling between the engine and the first car. People were actually riding with the conductor. The man who almost died was trying to get off the train. He literally fell out of the sea of people and his arm got caught on something right as the train started to move. So he was being dragged along while some people were pulling him every which way trying to get him out. I saw him dissappear off the platform but I think he made it out ok because I didn’t hear any horrible death screams and nobody called an ambulance.

It was just Kasandra, Trevor, Rob and I on the trip down. The rest were either leaving from Alexandria or catching a train on Friday. At Cairo we met up with some of the other students and went to a nice restaurant to eat. We had to say goodbye to Rob since he had an 11:00pm bus to Israel. The rest of us stayed up all night looking at pictures and sent Kasandra off to Turkey to stay with her family. Andrea left a few days later. Trevor left Monday. Jon left on Friday. The only boys left in Egypt are the 3 Jameses and Josh. Of the girls the only remaining are Lina, Ger, Corey and Simone.

But on the upside two my two best friends from home got in Tuesday afternoon. I took them wandering around Cairo and they were both really excited to go on adventures. We got a little lost, found a street market and bought some oranges. Ate shawarma.. We retreated back to the hotel and went swimming and just relaxed the rest of the night. They had been traveling for a long while because of the snow in Europe and needed a rest. Wednesday we toured the Egyptian Museum. That place is incredible. It’s the most poorly organized and chaotic museum ever. But it was still full of so many things. I went to the Met and was impressed to see a couple sarcophagi and other artifacts and in this museum that kind of stuff is stacked like cord wood. It was mind blowing. In the afternoon we met up with Lina and Ger and Jon and went to Khan to show them the souk and after that we went to City Stars. Jeff wanted to see an Egyptian grocery store and I wanted to take them from something as “oriental” as a huge street bazaar right to something so incredibly western as City Stars. It was a busy day but it was a lot of fun. Thursday we went to the Coptic museum and Al-Azhar park. The park was gorgeous and it had a great view of the citadel. We took a lot of pictures, but by this point my camera died. When I got home all the pictures I had taken to that point had been deleted. That night we sat at the bar in our hotel and had a drink and played cards

Friday was when we had all the crazy adventures though. We got up early and took the train out to Giza station. That was our first mistake – Giza station is surrounded by filth and garbage and flies and the worst stench I’ve smelled since being in Egypt. But we found this guy claiming to be a cab driver and I don’t know why I let ourselves get in this car because it was NOT a cab. He then took us in a direction I figured was away from the pyramids and we ended up in this sketchy back ally, sitting in this sketchy tour guide’s office while he sold us sketchy camel rides for way to much money. It was totally worth it though. We got to see the pyramids from some amazing angles and we took some really great photos. Our guide barely spoke English but he was really nice. We got to climb the smallest of the 3 great pyramids. We saw the sphynx and then we paid our guide and ditched him. We walked around the great pyramid, explored the burial sites of some of the queens. Jeff climbed one of the little pyramids to one of the queens and we got some pictures of him standing at the top. Then, for the sheer absurdity and awesome nerd win of it all, we found a place to sit in the shadow of the great pyramid and played a game of Magic: The Gathering. While we were there Jeff took pictures with a bunch of people. He’s 6’5, 200 pounds, blond and fair skinned. He took A LOT of pictures with women. They all thought he was gorgeous and I bet if he had asked one to marry him she would have in a heart beat.

The second half of our adventure.. we took a train out as close to the citadel as we could get. Then caught a cab. I looked for the most broken down sad little cab I could find because I wanted to show my friends how I got to school every day. That was a mistake too. I kept saying we wanted to get to the Mohammed Ali Mosque, or the White Mosque, or Mesgid, or etc. In Arabic. He has no clue what I was talking about. We finally got close and just got out and walked the rest of the way.

We got right up to the main gates of the citadel and took some goofy photos and this little Egyptian man comes by, introduces himself, tells is that the Citadel is closed on Fridays for prayer service.. but that he knows of a nearby mosque where we can get a good view anyway. He drags us all through the shady back alleys of  Old Cairo and then fleeces us out of 300 pounds. I don’t know where my head was that I let him do that to us. But we did get to climb a minaret and it was a pretty good view of Cairo. Was it worth the 50 bucks we lost..? Maybe. But it was still cool.

They left on Christmas Day. Dr Alkomi took the remaining IFSA students out to dinner to celebrate and then we just chilled out the rest of the day. I’m just spending my last few days in Egypt loafing around. I’ll probably go out a couple more times on small adventures but I’m kinda adventured out. I will miss Egypt and I really do plan to come back some day. But right now I’m looking forward to pizza with real sauce and bacon on my burgers.

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King Tut Rocks Out

Time November 18th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So lots of stuff.

The first Monday in November Robert, Trevor and I went to see Tutankamun the Musical. It was unique to say the least. It was in English and was performed in part by the Cairo Ballet, and I thought they were very good. Although some times the routines were a little too ..odd. There was a whole scene with a 10 year old boy and some snakes. Very strange. But what made the Musical so absolutely awesome was that it was essentially an 80’s rock power ballad. The only thing missing was the awesome 80’s hair. But otherwise they had it all covered. There were rockin’ guitar power chords, and an electric guitar solo, intense rock beats, cheesy ballads, and the antagonist sounded like the lead singer in a Led Zepplin cover band. It was Epic. Afterwards I felt like we had just seen a rock concert.

We went to Ain Sokhna last weekend. That was a very good time. The Alex kids took the train down to Cairo and the Cairo kids prepared a nice welcome for us. Mr Memdoua unveiled a beautiful sketch he had done of a woman and James Blond or John or perhaps both made spaghetti and stir fry. We stayed up until 2:00am or so just catching up and listening to John play his guitar.

The next day we took the bus over to the Red Sea. The resort was beautiful. Our hotel rooms were actually little villas in complexes surrounding beautiful little wading pools. It was maybe a 10 minute walk to the ocean and the weather was warm enough to make you want to go swimming without being so warm that you were drenched in sweat from the walk. I spent 2 or 3 hours playing in the water with the other kids. We chased fish and sand crabs. We found star fish and sand dollars, looked for shells. We played Chicken, which was a lot of fun. We covered each other in mud and clay. The clay from the Red Sea people pay $50+ for in the US we would scoop up and throw at each other. Kasandra and Blond James covered their faces in the clay and let it dry. They looked like zombies. It was hilarious.

Trevor and I retreated to one of the restaurants around 4:00pm or so and chatted with the bar tender. A drunk Italian guy was threatening to kill the bartender just because he could. It was really odd. He made me nervous.

Dinner was a very nice buffet although they set it up poorly and it made me upset. Thank you University Housing for keeping me from fully enjoying a delicious high end buffet. After dinner we all gathered in the atrium area to listen to the singer and enjoy ourselves. There was a belly dancer and a lot of us got involved in the show in some way. It was really funny. After she finished her act  were all feeling pretty lose. So there was lots of dancing and carrying on. We must have been as much fun to watch as the belly dancer because several tables of people were watching us and having a good time at well. John is a hilarious dancer. He just throws himself in to it. He told me “yeah I dont dance often but when I do I  just go crazy.” I think he figures its better to just try and have fun than to worry what he might look like He was the life of the party. We migrated to an actual dance club after a bit but left after maybe an hour. . At that point the party got split, with most of the girls going to the ocean and a group of us going back to the pools by our villas. We just chilled out, and I retired at about 2:00am.

The next morning we all rolled out of bed by about 9:00am or so and stumbled down for breakfast. Some us were in better shape than others. Then we went back to the beach and lounged around and took turns burying people in the sand while John serenaded us with his guitar. It was really quite pleasant.

This last week was mid terms week. It was a bit of a joke really. The Ameya exam for Robert, Trevor and I (novices/complete beginners) was laughably easy. But the Fusha exam was extremely difficult. That’s not just my opinion. Even the best students in the class agreed that it was at least challenging and all of us agreed that the dictation part was mean. To be honest the arabic program at TAFL is very dissapointing. I’ve learned a lot in my class but I don’t feel like I’m prepared to return to the states and take the next level of Arabic. The classes are very disjointed and disorganized and I feel that accross the board the teachers are adlibbing our lessons. I’ve heard though that the program this semester has had a lot of problems because of a change in the administration and that it is normally very good. So I’m sure that prospective students will have a better time. But I strongly suggest that students who want to learn Arabic and have no experience consider taking lessons at home first. I don’t have a lot of problems with a language barrier. Travel and life in Egypt would be easier if I spoke English but it doesn’t keep me from doing things,  but it makes the classes more difficult. Our “novice” level class made the assumption that we were all somewhat literate and all of the other novice students have experience with Arabic because of either independant study or time spent in Egypt or Egyptian family members.

Today I’m writing from Dahab. Trevor and Rob and I, as well as Lina and Ger from IFSA, and Dean, Connor, and Dan from private programs, are all in the Sinai for 6 days. It was an epic bus ride. We rode 8 hours from Cairo to Sharm el-Shayk overnight. The ride wasn’t so bad.. but if you’re 6ft or taller consider flying. Its more expensive but not by that much, and its only about 30 minutes instead of 8 hours. People my hight and taller simply don’t fit well on busses for that long. The ride from Sharm to Dahab took 2 hours and the bus was sketchier. But it was overall ok. We made it alive.

Dahab is really odd. There are places that are  under construction, abandoned, slums etc. And then there is the coast where all the tourists and wealth is concentrated. Its really strange. our hotel is very nice but 2 blocks over it looks like a war zone. Today we just explored. We had breakfast, and splashed in the pool. While everyone else went to the beach I napped by the pool side. For dinner we went to this amazing restaurant and sat on throw pillows by the ocean. It was very “orientalist” but still a great experience. After dinner we sat around smoking sheesha (flavored tobacco in a water pipe) and drinking Turkish Coffee and just laughing and chatting.

Tomorrow we’re going diving and snorkeling (for those of us who aren’t certified to dive). Rob and I want to go on a ATV safari, and we’re going on an over-night trip to climb Mt Sinai and a camel ride through the White Canyon. It should be a blast. I’ll keep you updated.

James

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Not in Istanbul

Time October 11th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After reading over my last blog post I have one clarification. I am not in Istanbul.

Sorry for the long delay between posts. We made it to Alexandria safely after a long bus ride. The city itself feels different from Cairo in several ways. Traffic doesn’t feel as bad. At night busy streets are easier to cross. Of course Egypt never really sleeps so they never are totally safe. But in the morning it takes a half hour or so to drive to school. At night it takes maybe 10 minutes. The air feels better. Cairo’s air is absolutely filthy and you can feel it in your lungs. It smells more fresh here too – especially along the coast. The architecture is subtly different. There is still trash everywhere, but less trash. There are abandoned buildings and half-complete structures everywhere too. On my way to the grocery store i walk down a busy street. To the right is a typical street front full of banks and shops and paraphernalia. To the left is a row of half finished concrete skeletons and no signs of construction work. There is still rubble in random places. Near Rahmal Station, which is the end of the line for the tram and a little shopping district, are huge piles of broken concrete slabs and debris. I hesitate to call the city beautiful. But it does have an endearingly shabby charm to it. There are certainly lovely aspects of the city. There is a beautiful park in the center of the city and nothing quite compares to staring out at the Mediterranean after midnight. On the right the city glows like thousands of little fireflies and on the left the Citadel of Quitbay stands ready against long forgotten enemies, and the waves of the med roll in from the dark abyss and crash against the shore. I can’t help but imagine what it must have looked like a thousand years ago with the Great Lighthouse standing watch and the harbor full of sails from the trade ships.

That might have been a little dramatic but for me nothing I have seen in Egypt compares to the Mediterranean at night. I could sit on the Korniche and stare off into the darkness forever.

Anyway. The dorms are typically Egyptian in that they are functionally shabby. The rooms are small. But ideally you don’t spend time in your bedroom. You’re in Egypt you should be out doing cool things! Not rotting in your room (I say this as I sip a glass of tea in my bedroom…). The international students have air conditioning, but it gave me a cold. So it’s a mixed blessing. By now it’s early October and while the days are warm the nights are wonderfully cool. So I haven’t needed my air conditioning in some time. Our sleeping arrangement is adequate. Although it varies from person to person. My mattress is fine except for the huge depression right in the middle of it from 30 years of people sitting and sleeping on it. There are wooden slats (literally just 2×4’s) providing extra support but they don’t help much. Trevor has fewer boards than I do so he’s fallen through a couple times. I’ve gotten pretty good at sleeping around the dentI. The girls have had worse luck with their beds though. So your mileage may vary. I did buy a new pillow but I almost don’t need it. I haven’t used my comforter. It’s scratchy and I’m not sure when it was last washed. But I have another blanket that smells cleaner and really that’s all I need. Trevor’s blanket was seriously funky but when he mentioned it to someone they got him a clean one.

That seems to be the case in Egypt though. People don’t notice problems until you mention that there are problems.

The bathrooms are there own breed of special. The toilets dont flush particularly well. You literally turn a valve and water runs until the waste is carried away. One of them mostly just floods (clean water, fortunately). They clean it every night but I’m not sure they use chemicals. By evening there is the distinct smell of old urine. The showers are an adventure. They all work and as long as you brought flip-flops with you they’re clean enough. But some work better than others. Some take a while to get hot. Some only blast scalding water. Some have strong spray and some are light mist. One shoots a lazer-beam of water directly down at you. But once you figure out how to adjust the temperature of the water they work just fine. In Egypt all the toilets have a biday. But I caution the adventurous traveler. We have learned that Americans and bidays do not mix and in general they cause more problems than they solve.

Part of the reason for the lack of updates was the serious problem with our internet. It worked some days and others not at all, or just barely. Then one day it was just gone. Then another day it was back – they had brought us a new repeater. So it is more stable now. Video uploads might not go as smoothly as IFSA would like, unfortunately. (I am supposed to be a video blogger). It’s taken a half hour to upload one 65mb video and I have about 20 of them.

Robert and Trevor and I live about 45 minutes from TAFL by foot. So we have to take a cab. This is how you hail a cab in Alexandria:

  1. Stand by the road and flag down cabs with the number of open seats you need. Occupied cabs will stop for you.
  2. Tell them where you want to go (Smooha, Coleyiat Adab, Mahata Raml, etc).
  3. Watch, vaguely irritated, as he drives off.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until someone decides to go where you want.
  5. Go there.
  6. GET OUT OF THE CAB.
  7. Pay the cabby how much the ride is worth.
  8. Walk away.

I have decided that as a non-speaker, if you know about how much it should cost to go somewhere, it is safer not to ask them how much it costs. A trip to down town should cost between 10 and 15 pounds. A trip to school and back should cost about 5. If you ask them how much you want they will likely ask you for too much. Your situation may vary and I’m sure at some point this system will cause me problems. But so far it has worked out.

The cabs are fun though. Some are rank with the smell of gasoline. Others play bumpin music. One cabby was rocking out to Lady Gaga. Some listen to Koran. Others will try to talk to you no matter how much you can’t understand them. Some are conservative drivers and others are eager to get hit by a bus. On one trip the cabby almost ran down old women on multiple occasions. Another cut off an ambulance (traffic does not get out of the way of emergency vehicles). Another cab driver was pushing his car despite the obvious fact to even mechanical idiots like myself that his transmission was one bad day away from exploding. Some are pimped out with all kinds of lights and bumper stickers and shag carpet and chrome. Others are just plain old cars. Most trips are fine. This is not as big a worry as they make it out to be.

The first video is a brief introduction to a band that played for us at orientation. To keep this post from becoming a massive wall of text I’ll start a new post with each successfully uploaded video.

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Adventures in Tourist Land

Time September 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So the last few days have been a lot of fun. We’ve been doing typical tourist stuff mostly.

We met Dr Al-Khomi’s son Sharif. Apparently he reads my blog and wanted to meet me (Shout out to Sharif!). He’s a nice kid. He offered to take us to  City Stars which is this absolutely massive mall. Rob, Trevor, Lauren and I went with Mr Memdu as chaperon/escort. The place us huge. I think around 10 stories. It has its own grocery store and multiple arcades. It was really not what I had expected of a mall in an Islamic country. There were a lot of women wearing the hijab, yes. But otherwise it was exactly like a western mall. There were a lot of the same shops and all the posters and advertisements were the same. I would have thought them to be scandalous over here! Girls in sensual poses or in revealing clothing (even by our standards in some places). There was even a “Women’s Secret” and while the mannequins and posters weren’t slutty models in tiny underoos, they were very clearly not wearing your grandmother’s underwear. Shocking.

We went bowling too and that was a ton of fun. I’m not a great bowler, but Egyptians suck. Even our chaperon Mr Memdu got in on the game a little bit. He’s a really fun guy for barely speaking any Ingelesia. (my blog is fun and educational!)

The next day was Pyramids day. That was incredible. We first went to Sakara to see the step pyramid – the oldest pyramid in Egypt and the first Egyptian pyramid (I think the temple at Uruk is the oldest one in the world. Sorry Egypt…). It was awesome. But there was trash everywhere and a lot of…. I’m not sure what to call them. This one guy came up to me dressed in phony Bedouin clothes and said “Where you from, American?! You want to take my picture?! Ride camel?!” and the whole time he was shaking my hand. These guys are all over historic sites. You take their picture, they want baksheesh which is like a few pounds tip. Or they’re hawking cheap goods. John (Gosh in Arabic.. there is no J sound) ended up buying a bunch of stuff. He bought a sun hat and it was vaguely cowboy in nature so they would yell “Hey Cowboy!” at him. They are relentless. At the White Mosque today they were pestering Simone and Corey pretty badly. The one guy kept following Simone, even after I moved between them and called her “Canada Dry.” Another guy offered Corey 200 goats. What exactly for we aren’t sure.

After that pyramid we visited a carpet weaving school. In Sakara they have a lot of these. Apparently they make the best carpets in the world. They have a lot of young kids working there. The tour guide for our group told us before we arrived (we had a guide for all of our tour of Cairo, so not the carpet guide..) that this is a good way for kids to help the family since they are very poor, they learn a trade, and it helps them pay for school if they go. The factory employed guide told us they only work 3 hours a day and they get a break every 15 minutes if they want it. It seems like a good thing. But on the other hand child labor seems a little shady. But who am I to judge? A starting salary for a police officer is about 150 pounds and I spent that much on art today. I can’t really speak out against a practice that might help feed a starving family.

The Giza pyramids were amazing, as expected. A stone block is almost as tall as I am. I got to climb it too! We were told we were allowed to climb to a specific point on the Pyramid and I didn’t see any stairs. So I just started climbing up blocks by heaving myself onto them – pretty gracefully if I do say so myself. But I got so high and a guard FREAKED OUT and started blowing on his whistle and gesturing for me to get down. I later learned there were stairs…

I rode a camel! The guide tried to take my hat. I took some video of that so I won’t talk too much about it except to say that he looked very good in my hat. The camel riding was a lot of fun. Better than horses in my opinion. Getting on and off is frightening because you sit almost completely vertical on the camel when his front legs kneel down. But the ride is much smoother, even at a gentle trot. They do smell though and I stank like camel the entire rest of the day. We visited the Sphyinx after that. It was neat but after the great pyramid.. what can compare?

Next day was much more shopping oriented. We visited the Citadel of Saladin and the White Mosque. The citadel was very disappointing. I was expecting this magnificient medieval crusader fortress and while it was neat from the outside.. inside was just stone walls. The White Mosque was much better. It reminded me a lot of pictures of Hagia Sophia or the Sulimaniye or the Blue Mosque. But a lot smaller and not as much light. After that we went to this place to “learn about ancient egyptian oils” which, is truthiness for “they’re going to give a sales pitch for perfume and aroma therapy then you will have a chance to buy some.”

It was a good pitch and I totally did. I bought one for myself and several for Amber. The proprieter told me “Hey I like this guy, he buy presents for his lady friend back home!” and a bunch of the girls thought I was being sweet and thoughtful. Trevor said “He’s just being a smart boyfriend.” They were insanely cheap and even though i spent a lot of money you would never find anything this cheap in the US. Its all organic too, and in the style that the ancient egyptians used, which means (according to the sales man and our tour guide/merchant baiter) they will last forever. As in they will never decay.

We went to the “papyrus museum” to learn about papyrus afterwards. We did learn how papyrus was made but we also got the “student discount” from the shop. I bought some stuff there too. I’m done buying souvenirs for a little while.

After that we visited the Khan al Khalil bazaar, the largest in the middle east second only to the one in Istanbul. We were told that while back in the day it had great stuff, now it’s a big tourist trap and most of it is made in China.

We head to Istanbul in a few days. Hopefully we’ll have better internet so I can upload all the video I have. I’ve taken maybe 20 minutes worth of short video clips.

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Brief Introduction

Time August 31st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hi there,

I had a lot of things to deal with this summer that I hadn’t considered when I decided to study abroad.

My lease expired on the 15th of August and with almost 4 weeks before my departure date I had to find a place to live. I have one semester left here in Wisconsin after I get back, so I also had to find a place to stay for that last semester. Luckily for me, one of my friends had just graduated and moved in to a lovely new apartment, and he has offered to put me up until I leave and again after I get back.

I’m also applying to graduate schools for the fall of 2011. That means I have to do all sorts of things for the applications that people normally do in September or October. I registered for the GRE, started asking for letters of recommendation, and began getting all the other paperwork together to submit the applications while I’m in Egypt.

I also have to worry about financial aid. The university doesn’t dispense its aid package until the 9th, which is the same day we are leaving. I have to leave paperwork with a friend in Madison so that he can deposit my checks for me while I’m away.

Those are the most important things I’ve had to think about. But I’ve also had minor random things to deal with. I needed to get a laptop. I bought a camera, and some new clothes and linens and other supplies.

That’s all for now. The next video I post will be from JFK, just before I leave on September 9
James

th.

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Airports, Visas, and more!!!

Time May 24th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hi all,

I hope this blog finds you well. As the weeks progress finals are approaching; however, I will not be dedicating this blog to venting all about exams, but to tell you more about my recent experiences.

Before anything I have to tell you all about my adventure I took to the States on May 13th. I left on the 13th of May to go to the USA just to walk at my graduation on May 14th. After walking at my graduation that same night I was back at Boston Logan thinking, “this isn’t right I was here a few hours ago.” It was even more tedious when I had to wait 10 hours at Heathrow Airport for my connecting flight to Cairo. All in all it was good because I finished my 700 page fun read I had picked up at the same airport 2 days before. Nevertheless, the entire, crazy adventure was worth it, I was able to see all of my friends and family and of course experience the thrill of walking at my graduation!!!

Anyways, back to Egypt. Some funny things that happened at the Cairo airport was the constant question of where I am from when I go through immigration and customs. I hand the person my US Passport and they ask me where are you from I say, “America” the question that follows is, “no, no, before, your first citizenship,” I reply “US” then they ask “and your father where is he from?” and I say, “America” and “your mother?”, “America” and then they finally understand that I am not Egyptian, I only look like one. I  think they ask me all of these questions so that they know if I have to have an entry visa or not. Speaking about entry visas, it is so easy to get an entry visa for Egypt. I was all worried because I had always had my entry visa before leaving America, I would send my passport to the corresponding Egyptian consulate in New York and they would stamp it and everything. But I found out that all you have to do when you get to Egypt at least if you hold an US passport is to stop at one of the four windows there are of banks in Egypt, pay 15 dollars and they give you a fancy sticker and that it is. I mean the entire process took me less than 30 seconds. I handed the man the money and before I knew it I had a visa in my hands. I had to ask him if that was it. Well now you all know the secret. I hope you have enjoyed my wild adventures and my quirky recounting of what happens inside the Cairo Airport.

Until next time.

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Everyone thinks I’m Egyptian

Time May 10th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hi again,

Yesterday Dr. Mohamed (the Resident Director) reminded me how much people mistake me for an Egyptian. This works wonders because I blend in, but when people ask for directions it does get a little tricky. I say to myself after I have finished trying giving directions, that probably the person who asked must be thinking that I never studied grammar in school. Anyways, as I told you all last time I have been very busy with classes and running errands. It seems as if I am working against the tide or something; nevertheless, everything I need to do gets done in time.

I noticed something the other day, actually about a week ago, on how being in a country you do not quite understand what everyone is saying around you and when English television is scarce you read more… I have never enjoyed pleasure reading quite as much as I do now. I mean after I get done with studying, reviewing, chores, etc. I pick up my book that I fully understand and jump into my novel world. It has been four months now that I have been in Egypt and I guess I am feeling like I needed a break for a little to fully understand what was going on around me, even if it is in the novel world.

Of course I still have had fun, while being here, there is always time for fun.  I have gone to the movies (again) saw the “Date Night” with Steve Carell and Tina Fay and it was really funny. I caved from having been eating all Egyptian food and bought myself “honey nut cheerios” and have been enjoying every bit of them. Went shopping and got myself new shoes; a funny thing happened when I was at the store. I managed to tell the man my size. He handed me the right sandal I tried it on and it fit so I decided to get them. (I really did need them). But since I didn’t know how to say, “where is the other one” I said “where is the shoes sister” everyone laughed and they knew I was from somewhere not from Egypt. Comic relief is always healthy.

Anyways that is what has been going on. I have to go start my Arabic homework.

Bye.

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Classes and feeling at home

Time April 29th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The TAFL is a wonderful place to learn Arabic. Part of the “Coliat al Adab” in Alexandria University just steps away from the famous Alexandria Library, the TAFL center is buzz of international connections with students from all over the world. Students from Russia, Japan, England, Somalia, America, Germany amongst other places all come to the TAFL center to learn various levels of Arabic.

What really stands out in this small building is the professors. The Arabic professors are experienced, approachable and extremely patient with all the students. The sense of family among the staff is apparent especially with the sad moments that have happened this semester…one professor was killed in an automobile accident, and just the other day the founder and first director of the TAFL Center, the professors’ professor, passed away. It was from these events that I could candidly see the intricate web amongst the TAFL staff as they held each other for support and never forgot their professional obligations to their jobs and students.

My week schedule is as follows (classes are 2 hours each):
Monday: Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), Islamic Culture
Tuesday: 4 consecutive hours of MSA, Islamic History
Wednesday: MSA, Colloquial Egyptian
Thursday: Colloquial Egyptian, MSA

Classes like Islamic History and Islamic Culture are more flexible and have often switched around.

The most important classes to me are the MSA and Colloquial Egyptian. The MSA classes are highly structured and focus highly on grammar, comprehension, and syntax. Arabic is an academic challenge unlike any other I have dealt with. I have tried to learn languages before with some success (Spanish for example), but Arabic is different in that it uses a totally different alphabet with some sounds that aren’t commonly found in English. I am constantly pulling from my Urdu and Gujarati background in order to make some comprehension of this rich language. I know that after I leave I would have barely, just barely, scratched its surface.

Studying is rigorous and tiring. I wake up at 7:30 am and sometimes dont get back to my dorm until 5 pm. I take refuge during my long weekends by running on a track, going to the beach and just lazing around.

I have effective become a resident of Alex, no longer a visitor. I knew this the day I stopped feeling bad for giving the taxi drivers 4 Egyptian pounds (Guinea) instead of the 10 they would demand from foreigners. But truth be told, I have never been treated as a complete foreigner (at least not initially) as some of the other IFSA students for the obvious reason of my skin color. I feel very happy walking around the sook (back alley markets) without being stared at and blending in with the rest of the population. Most of my compatriots are unable to experience such a thing, as they are often somewhat a sort of spectacle. I think I am fortunate for this.

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