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The Space, Now with a Face

Time September 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s time I actually introduce you all to the place where I make my base. I’m not sure which number my building has been assigned, but I live on the 13th floor of 15 or so. The guys live on the twelfth, so it’s easy to pop down to hang out or for them to bop up.

 The long view through the main/reception room.

 View from the middle of the reception room towards the dining room table.

 Our table, and its associated wall of mirrors, where we were studying ECA the other day.

  I have only one balcony; the guys have two, but one is enclosed. But the view from my balcony is pretty good. Looking to the north, I see views of the British Embassy, other Roushdy apartment buildings, the ritzy Four Seasons Hotel in San Stefano, and snatches of the sea.

   Looking to the south, I see a very large, relatively empty field. Though the majority of this land has become trashed, there are buildings and soccer fields among it. Ben and Brannon have ventured to it for Frisbeeing purposes; turns out that it’s a privately owned and guarded field. Beyond the field in the second picture are more soccer fields, an equestrian complex, and another ritzy part of the city. I think any water you can see to the south has to do with the delta’s high water table.

 My bedroom has a chandelier. What.

 The prime reason the women’s apartment is nicer than the men’s flat (our nicer dining room is canceled by the men’s two balconies) is the kitchen: ours is larger. In this picture, taken sometime over last weekend, I cooked the first meal of the semester: stir fry. The round circle under the counter is…my washing machine. Yep, it’s in the kitchen. The position makes sense only because a washing machine, like a sink or dishwasher, needs a certain water supply. The dryer is in a separate closet between the kitchen and our third bathroom.

 

The rest of the apartment is as expected: a bedroom has one or more beds (space at least for two), a vanity with mirror, a wardrobe, an air conditioner, and windows. One bathroom is at the end of the bedroom hallway, the other in the master bedroom. Each has a toilet and bidet, a sink, and a skinny tub with shower capabilities, plus the attendant towel racks. The one thing bathrooms lack are a medicine cabinet or other such shelves. Also, there is a water heater for each bathroom and the kitchen, not one centralized huge water heater. I’m not sure of the efficiency of such system – although it’s a smaller amount of water being heated at a time, there are also larger surface areas to lose heat to the surrounding air. The two doors partitioning the bedroom hallway from the entryway or the reception room are made of mirrored glass on both sides – the generic style of doors in the apartment except the front door.

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Of One Adventure and One Appointment

Time September 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Ok: so I’ve not done too well at including pictures in blogs. This entry will be no different, but for a different reason than the past couple text blogs: I took no pictures for these two events I’m about to describe. In the first, I was in no mood to pull out the camera, thus labeling us as more foreign a presence than we were labeling ourselves, and how could I photographically present the image of us being lost? The second event had the nature of being inappropriate for pictures/video, and as such I kept the camera at home.  Soon, however, visual/audio description will resume. Note on that front: if at any time you want to see any of my pictures in a larger format, click on the picture. Once you are done viewing it as a larger photo, the backwards button on your browser will take you back to the post itself.

 

The first day of class was Monday. In a normal week, Sunday is the first day of class, but due to the short notice of schedule change (we were supposed to have another week but this was changed for security reasons), we were given Sunday as one last free day. That Sunday Brannon and I went swimming at the beach at Stanley Bridge, shown in the pictures I last uploaded.

Anyway, class. Our first class on Monday/Wednesday is Politics and Media, team-taught by two women, Dr.s Naglaa and Hibba. They’re pretty amazing women. Dr. Naglaa teaches on Monday, focusing on written words (articles, blogs, etc) and on Libya and Syria. (Dr. Hibba takes our Wednesday class, focusing on the visual (videos, some blogs, etc) and on Tunisia and Egypt.) While we were recovering from the shock of an extremely energetic woman in front of us, and the fact that our classes are just us, no one else, in a small room on the second floor of the TAFL Centre’s extension, Moutaz bopped in to tell us that our next class, Islamic History and Culture, was canceled because the teacher, Ustadha Radwa, was ill.

So, it’s now 11:10 am, and we have the rest of the day. What’s our plan? Go shopping at Carrefour, for spices, veggies, eggs, clothes, and lunch! I began the movement to go to Carrefour, which lays at the south edge of the city, and Jeanette and Ben joined me. Soon, we were on the Corniche trying to grab a taxi. Moutaz had told us expected fares of LE 7 to get to Carrefour (which is part and parcel of a large mall called City Center) and LE 15 to get to Kafr Abdou, our home street. We finally settled for a taxi going to Carrefour for LE 10 – taxi drivers take advantage that foreigners supposedly don’t know the running rates to go around the city and try to get extra change. And we’re obviously foreigners. Anyways, getting to Carrefour was relatively simple and hassle-free, though traffic was nuts. Just a normal day in Alexandria – congested traffic in very localized spots.

Once in Carrefour, we headed to the food court. Ben and Jeanette got their food quickly from the fast food franchises established in the food court, but I chose the Chinese restaurant outlet. Soon after Ben finished his food, he wandered off, returning maybe 40 minutes later with a new shirt. After waiting for an hour and a half for food that never came, thankfully that I’d also not paid for, I bought a McArabiya Kofta from McDonald’s. I just wanted to try what the international supersize me franchise would give an Egyptian – it was nothing special. Jeanette had gone off by then to begin shopping; by the time I finished my food, she called to say lunch hadn’t agreed with her, so she’d be waiting for us at Starbuck’s. Ok.

Ben and I went shopping in Carrefour itself, a funny experience. First, the two of us were all over the spice barrels, sacking up small portions of this and that, handing each bag over to the pricing attendant who knew what each spice material was regardless of how many brown powders we handed over. Then, we split up, but I got my shopping done long before Ben had reached the eggs. I was highly amused that I was done, while Ben ran around the store some more – so much for the stereotype of girls and shopping…

After hooking up with Jeanette again, we were now laden with two to four bags each and two flats of eggs. I made the mistake of accepting the first taxi we saw – I thought the man had said LE 15, but in reality he’d said LE 50. As we’re driving away from the mall, I asked for clarification, louder and louder as the man was seemingly nearly deaf. Then he wrote LE 60 on the mirror to clear the matter up. What?! The max anyone should pay is LE 20! Quick conversations between the three of us on Jeanette’s handy post-its changed our destination to the University (we’d take the tram to home) in an attempt to lower the price.  That only partially worked. Ben handed over LE 20, and was going to walk away. The driver refused this “small” payment, thrusting it in my face and saying “No. No. No.” The interaction between us slowly rose in frustration as we tried to figure out what he wanted, working with limited common language, and Ben trying to get us away from him. Finally, as Ben and I walked away from the taxi, Jeanette went back and paid another LE 20. This reaction created an immediate exchange of louder comments between the two of them as we began walked to the tram until I called for a halt of conversation. I had just realized that no Egyptian walks around with this many bags of produce, and Carrefour is somewhat on the higher end of prices. Besides being obvious foreigners, our loud presence, subject of conversation, and bags declared us a rich, non-Egyptian presence. This wasn’t helping us blend in.

Getting on the tram was fine and dandy (once we figured out which platform and direction we needed to be going to), and I texted Moutaz for directions on which platform to exit, since we’d not actually taken the tram home before. Well…levels of anxiety were raised for all of us, and the afternoon hot…push came to shove and we left the tram about three or five platforms too early. Following a couple of directions (later realizing that if we’d continued longer, we actually would have been in the right area), we soon enough walked our way south west of our home district of Roushdy. We were in Sumouha. Once we figured that out, I texted Moutaz again so that he wouldn’t worry too much.

By now, however, Jeanette was deeper into heat exhaustion than I realized at the time. She’d earlier spat up water when she took a drink, and now, as she sat heavily on a step, her face declared her in desperate need of a break, some water, backpack off, and grapes. So we set down all our things (including Ben’s package of meat, and the 60 eggs – in the back of my head I was worried about the sanitary conditions) for about a half hour. Ben took off in one direction after some more heated conversing to see if he could find an answer of how to get home. However, the more I thought about our situation, the more I realized we were sitting targets if anyone had malicious intentions – once again not even close to blending in. When Ben returned with a helpful man’s promise of a taxi costing LE 1.25 to get to Roushdy (or a 10 min walk), we once again girded our loins for the walk around the block for a taxi. In the process of trying to hail a taxi, a really helpful young man began to ask questions about our destination. Soon, he called taxis over and sifted through them until he found a driver willing to take us to Roushdy for LE 10. The young man had recognized our predicament and was willing to step up because his mother is Belgian and has faced the attention given to foreigners for the last 22 years. He cannot attend public school because his English accent gives his origins away – though his features would tell you that he’s Egyptian. He apparently had just shaved his hair, since he also got all sorts of unwanted attention with his European-inspired Mohawk.

Once we had the taxi driver drop us off at the nearby British Embassy (I had passed us off as British to the young man), it was only a matter of a short walk to our apartments. After relaying the story to Moutaz, I fell asleep at 7:30 pm. Ahhhh.

 

I saw an orthopedic doctor last night. In the last 48 hours, I’ve learned a lot about the medical system in Egypt. In all reality, I’m fine, nothing super to be concerned about. Probably I’ve just succumbed to the statistics: something around 50-80% of all travelers experiences some illness/bug while traveling (Sorry Luther CGL – I was paying attention in the lecture, but it’s been a while!). My specific complaint? I have steady pain and inflammation in several joints, giving me the diagnosis of polyarthritis.

The pain began in my neck about a week ago; it wasn’t significant enough to bother me during the day, but pain would disturb my sleeping habits and duration. The pain slowly spread to one hip, the opposite shoulder, and one elbow, increasing in intensity to the point on Tuesday I could but limp around. As Brannon put it, I’m a 20 year old walking like an 80 year old. Even one professor became concerned when I shakily stood up for a break. Because this pain was debilitating me, I told Moutaz about it (he’d sent us by taxi to give us a different experience than the previous story) and sent an informative and opinion-seeking email on the subject to my parents and to Dr. Mohamed. I figured I’d give it another week to try out different beds or perhaps some cushions on a floor, maybe take ibuprofen…and I could suffer through it.

Dr. Mohamed took that email, called Moutaz and me, starting a chain reaction that soon got me an appointment with one of the most famous orthopedic doctors in the city. And I had a choice of Tuesday night or Wednesday night for the appointment. Wow. Um, since when does a simple check up get you to see the doctor, especially a specialist, that night?! I chose the latter because I wanted to see if stretching helped. Twenty-four hours of undisturbed sleep caused by stretching, changing beds, and 400 mg of ibuprofen, plus tram riding, reading in a park before class, class, and one short enforced reprieve from electricity later, I was in a taxi bound for the private hospital directed by the orthopedic doc.

Short break: medical students in Egypt graduate deeply in debt, just like in the States. Actually paying off that debt is harder in Egypt, however, because rampant unemployment and low wages continues to plaque the nation’s youth. Most graduates have to scramble for some sort of job, and many need to find two to pay off bills. MD students must first search for doctoral openings within public hospitals, where wages are rock bottom and work is sky high – these are the plethora of clinics that the lower paid public can afford to visit, and the medical staff are paid little by the government. Also, trust between a doctor and the public is the number one criteria for choosing which doctor to visit. When medical students begin their practice, the public at large doesn’t know them, doesn’t trust them, and therefore won’t choose them. Thus, regardless of the wage deficit, MDs must work at a public hospital first to gain people’s trust. In ten, twenty, or more years, when that trust has been built between doctor and patrons, the former can afford to open his or her own practice in an established private hospital, or if they are really lucky, begin their own private hospital. These private hospitals are not the sprawling, block-wide skyscraper conglomerate buildings we know with parking lots; they are tucked in among apartments and shops along busy streets. Judging by the fact that the doctor I saw was the director of a private hospital, the public must view him very favorably. That doesn’t tell me, however, that he will be able to sort me out.

Moutaz and I waited for around 10 minutes before being called into the office/exam room. While it wasn’t my American idea of an examination room, having the desk of the doctor in one corner didn’t detract from the fact that this was a clean, sterile, cool, and stocked room for a bone specialist: all sorts of casting tools and other medically helpful items in one corner, the bed across from the door, a huge canister of compressed oxygen, an emergency vacuum cast kit (what is that?), and various other medically-appearing items beside the bed. One nurse (all were hijab-ed short woman in all white clothing and shoes) stood behind the doctor while a couple others zipped up and down the hall outside the door – I could hear them only vaguely but had watched them while waiting. The actual appointment was all of 10 minutes long: I described the issue (he spoke English supremely well, thankfully), he asked questions, flexed and bent my limbs and pushed on joints, wrote me a prescription in decent chickenscratch, gave me a request for lab work, and sent us on our way. I got a whiff of really strong Purell scent as we left – the doctor had sterilized his hands with something like rubbing alcohol.

Ok, so that was fast. Next up, finding the laboratory, which ended up being in the far back corner of the first floor. They were able to draw blood immediately (using gloves, a new syringe, and sterilized cotton) and told us to return for results in a half hour. We used that half hour to step next door into a pharmacy and purchase the requested medications (one powder, one gel, and one multivitamin). Upon our return, and another 5 minutes later, I was handed a nice print out in a spiffy folder of all sorts of percentages and medical abbreviations with some pretty graphs at the bottom – the results of my blood. No idea what it all means, but I’ll give it to the doctor tonight, I think.

Anyway, I began my medical regimen today, Thursday. Yay. I still owe Moutaz for the appointment, lab work, and drugs, since I didn’t have enough cash on hand. But, seriously: these all add up to LE 132, which is roughly $21.60. I’m sure I was given priority because I’m a foreigner, but even so he went through patients at a steady clip. If this actually works to rid me of polyarthritis, I will be incredibly disillusioned, more than I am, with the American medical system.

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Wherein the Missing Orientation Pictures and Mysterious Free Days

Time September 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

 

Cairo Orientation – the video that should’ve accompanied the post of the same name.

 

 Jeanette, Mariam, and I just before we left Cairo.

 

Scenes from the Desert Highway: the left reminiscent of Jordan, the second of Turkey, and the third of my idea of California. There, of course, was more to the Highway, but I was writing and talking.

 Oh my gosh – you can actually see pavement!

 Our first view of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina from the Corniche.

 Turn the other way, towards the Sea, and there stands Fort Qaitbey. I have yet to visit the castle, which stands where the Pharos Lighthouse lit a beacon of warning.

Abu Shabat Abou Shabat (I think that was the name of the restauarant) was a fantastic seafood restaurant on the Corniche. We got to see pretty cool wave action, but the traffic on the Corniche behaved unusually well – so I wasn’t able to video anything exciting.

Bourii The fish (bourii) fillet of that restaurant; Brannon gave me a lesson on how to prepare and eat filleted fish. The tomatoes, onions, and lemon addition to the bourii and the accompanying literal pyramid of rice were incredibly tasty.

The Sunset over al-Iskandariyya This is what the sunset looks like through a window in the men’s apartment. I get the sunrise through my window.

Sana helwa Egame, Chris! Sorry about the quality of this picture: We surprised Chris with chocolate cake on her birthday!

Study time! So, via a reflection in the women’s apartment wall of mirrors, Ben, Brannon, Moutaz, and I are caught studying ECA. This was a couple days before classes started, working on organizing vocabulary, verb conjugations, and spelling. Always spelling.

January 25 Revolutionary graffiti sometimes still remains on walls in Alexandria – this section of bricks declares “January 25,” which is known as the “Friday of Rage” when police retaliation became brutal.

Stanley Beach with Brannon This past Sunday, the day before classes began, Brannon and I went swimming in the beach at Stanley Bridge (Jisr Stanly in MSA, Kubrii Stanly in ECA). While the water was saltier than I expected it to be (maybe 1/5 the saltiness of the Dead Sea, instead of 1/10), it felt sooo good to be in water once again. Playing Frisbee in the waves attracted attention to the novelty of two blondes; we ended up talking to some Egyptian men who live elsewhere in the world but spend part of their summer back in Alexandria. They invited us to political conversation, grapes, and tea, which we gladly accepted, drying out before our walk home. It was quite the fun afternoon, and a good last free day.

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Mu’adama al-Iskandariyya

Time September 17th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So, I intimated that we got to Alexandria safely – and we did, don’t get me wrong! To do so, we met more or less at 7:30 (٧:٣٠) am in the courtyard of the women’s apartment building, which also happens to be in front of the IFSA Egypt office. Mariam had spent the night in our apartment to save her the trip home and back. Consistent with the rest of Orientation, we piled (rather comfortably in comparison to microbuses) into the Misr Travel van, with our luggage on top. Our driver, Hassan, climbed on top to secure the luggage; we could see the roof bending under the combined weight of Hassan and our luggage. But, as he says, “It’s no problem.” We soon (about 20 minutes after the planned departure) left Misaha Square, our apartments, the IFSA office, and were on our way. Traffic stunk – we got caught in at least three traffic jams (which means that not even mopeds could get through). But once we got out of the city proper and onto the Desert Highway, traffic significantly lessened – I could see a foot or more of pavement between cars. The views along the highway were similar to sights in Jordan, Turkey, and my imagination of California farms – the first in stretches of desert and electric lines, the second in the style of building complexes and roadstands, and the third in the agricultural fields. Even though I spent much of the trip trying to write the last blog, bumps in the road made me delete about three letters for every word I wanted.

We were actually early to a meeting planned for us. Until know, I didn’t know the particulars of where I will study. Within Alexandria University, there are certain colleges called “Faculties.” As far as I can tell, each Faculty has one specific large building for its classes and resource housing. The medical campus, including Faculties of Pharmacology, Dentistry, and Medical Doctoralness (or whatever that word is in English), is on another street nearby. The Faculty of Arts, however, has another building, much smaller than the main building, just to the Faculty’s north. This building house the program now called Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language (TAFL Centre). This building is my academic home. IFSA-Butler is a private organization bringing students to study with the TAFL professors, who seem to have other positions elsewhere within the Faculty of Arts. So, our first meeting in Alexandria was with the director of TAFL, Dr. Lana. She is one very gregarious woman. Our professors also partook in this meeting, which included getting a brief overview of our classes and giving input on what we want to learn. The result, besides wonderful tea and sweets? I’m very excited about academics. Again, the wind of interest changes and focuses on something new. More about figuring out the future in another post.

We were treated to another lecture, this one on living in Alexandria by one of our professors. Having grown up in London, she has a seriously delicious British accent when speaking English. I can’t tell about her Arabic. We’d also met our Alexandria SSC, Moutaz, who also falls heavily to the extreme side of gregarious. I like him more every day. Another new student, Mya (spelling unknown) from France, tagged along for the lecture, Moutaz’s introductory tour of Alex U, and for lunch, where she finally figured out that we were a group. (Since Moutaz is also the Students Events Coordinator for TAFL, the confusion is understandable.) We ate food at the fancy, and quiet, San Giobanni restaurant at the Biblioteca Alexandrina, but until Thursday, we’d not actually seen the inside of the Biblioteca.

We then moved into our apartments. I’ve reiterated this so many times now that I feel like I’m a broken record: oh my gosh the floor plan is wonderful. To quote Brannon teasing me, holy buckets. Dr. Mohamed, upon questioning, told us that IFSA wanted to ensure students had a comfortable home to return to and to give us a break from the constant stress of living in a new culture. The large discrepancy between haves and have nots is reflected in the housing – there is not much to be had between literal villas and places “you don’t wanna live in” to quote Chris. After I got over the shock of crystal chandeliers, a wall of mirrors, porcelain, and Chris’s enormous master bedroom (this place is fancier than my Cairo apartment!), I began to see the broken chunk in one coffee table, the fridge, cracking paint on the molding, and no insulation on the hot water pipes. These are not issues to me aesthetically – both Jeanette and I arrive to this palace from homes that aren’t mansions. I mainly look for ways to streamline the energy consumption of the flat. More about adjusting to life in an apartment in a later post.

The highlight of the evening was the cook who came to teach us how to prepare koshary in the mens’ apartment. While we didn’t really learn the cooking process, we gained over 30 words of appliances, foodstuffs, colors, and phrases. All of these we had to spell for ourselves, which was a great challenge, though Dr. Mohamed and Mariam spellchecked us. The cook, from Aswan in Upper Egypt, had a slight accent – she pronounced her vowels slightly taller/skinnier than Mariam. It’s the first difference in accent that I’ve been able to pick up. Jeanette could not participate with us, due to a broken tooth that an Alexandrian dentist pulled that afternoon. That day, starting on a highway and bonding as a group over childbirth philosophies, ended learning so much more ECA than anticipated.

 

The next day started with a pattern that continued for three days – I didn’t judge the time correctly before our required meeting time at the bus. Each day I’d wake up an hour or more before the time, 8:30 am, but for one or another reason would be late or not completely together. Argh!

Anyway, Monday. We started the day at TAFL with a two-hour ECA class with Professor Emdel, our ECA prof for the semester. TAFL operates classes on a block/two-hour basis: first hour first class, 10 min break, second hour first class, 30 min lunch break, first hour second class, 10 min break, second hour second class. Emdel’s classes reminded me strongly of being in Luther’s Spanish 201, taught by Yertty, but I enjoyed Emdel’s more, partially because he tailored the class to us specifically, which meant I could go at our pace…Ben, Jeanette, and I were sometimes completely lost, but Brannon kept us going.

Our first presentation of the day concerned the subject of calligraphy, but the presenter didn’t have fluent English. So Moutaz translated, and flicked through pictures of calligraphy pieces from an exhibition in Dubai, then pictures of a seminar in which the presenter was prominent, then pictures of the interior of a dead calligrapher’s house. While the pieces individually were cool, I wanted to learn how to read calligraphy, what the styles mean, and why certain styles arose in the first place. After (in Arabic ‘ba3d ikeda’ = and then) the presentation, Dr. Mohamed and Moutaz took Chris and us to a nearby fast food (ish) restaurant a short walk from our gate of the U. We ate schwerma, the Egyptian version of the Turkish/German döner, and crepes Egyptian-style – which includes vegetables and meat. The music from the restaurant spilled, like tables and patrons, into the street, taking the appeal of the food past the street, filled with packed microbuses and taxis, over the U’s boundary. Coming back to TAFL Centre, we were treated to a lecture by a prominent history professor concerning the history of Alexandria. Having studied the various periods of North African occupation by Macedonian Greeks and Romans, I knew the general gist of the periods of Alexandria, but I wanted more than just explanations of the various landmarks within the city. I wanted to begin to delve into the politics of each era, what precipitated the transitions between the eras, etc. I began to fall asleep, like I would in Archaeology (sorry Colin!) – it was also that magical time between 1:30 and 2 pm. This was notable only in that it was the first lecture in which I got to sleepy…

The main attraction of the afternoon was heading to Carrefour. Carrefour is similar to Target, but it’s found in the large mall (City Centre) on the outskirts of Alexandria. We were asked previously to notice missing items that would make life desirable within the apartments…and Chris, Mariam, Jeanette, and I held a hasty conference before entering the store to divide and conquer our items. Later, we realized we had bought certain items in double and triple amounts, so divide and conquer didn’t really work – we have now three and a half brooms, for instance. Oh well. Because my phone’s still having problems receiving calls – a still ongoing saga that I’ve kind of glossed over – Moutaz accompanied me around. Mariam went with Jeanette, and Chris maneuvered herself. Dr. Mohamed, Brannon, and Ben kind of went their own way. (This has became something of a pattern – I got accompanied, the boys left to their own devices. I’m working on not minding this pattern.) In Carrefour, I really enjoyed Moutaz’s help getting around the store and learning the necessary intricacies, like weighing apples (from Washington state of all places!) before leaving the produce section. Afterwards, we wandered through the mall looking for a Mobinil store – the network of my phone. Meanwhile, we also had dinner, and I learned a bit about common hangouts, why McDonald’s is a status symbol, and motivation behind shopping at a Westernized mall such as City Centre, where brand-name stores advertise clothing I’ve not seen Egyptians wear. Turns out that these brands are status symbols for the very elite. More later. I had enough time Monday night for a luxurious shower…

 

Tuesday morning started like any other morning thus far: Emdel continued our Arabic (ECA) lessons, and then we had a presentation. The changes? Emdel told us that he was passing the torch of teaching us to another professor tomorrow, and the lecture was in another building – The Alexandria Centre for Maritime Archaeology. Needless to say, I got excited during this lecture, by the very well spoken Dr. Emad Khalil, who gave us a better background on the distinction between underwater and marine archaeology, how the center got started, and some of their largest finds in and around the city. Much of the underwater archaeological studies in Egypt have been around Alexandria, to the point where, to quote Dr. Emad, “Alexandria has been over-studied.” I found out later that one of my professors was very familiar with Dr. Emad’s work, though they didn’t know each other.

We then piled into the van and drove along the Corniche for lunch at a seaside restaurant whose name escapes me. The interior was well decorated, however, in the manner of an upscale European restaurant. The food was incredible: the guys and I had boursii, a local fish that is similar to American fish, filleted and presented under a pile of onions, tomatoes, and lemons slices. Also with the fish came a literal stacked pyramid of rice. I, not familiar with how to eat fish, stumbled along with bones until Brannon began giving me lessons on how to eat and prepare just caught fish. I did think it was delicious.

We then had a little bit of freedom, which meant that Moutaz, Chris, and I were dropped off at the nearby San Stefano mall – she to get coffee at the famous seafront Starbucks, Moutaz and I to fix my phone. After waiting in line for 16 customers (a short line by all accounts) and getting teased by Chris, I got a new SIM card, the card that keeps personal data. (In retrospect, it didn’t work, and I’m still having issues.) When we returned to the van, we found out that the others had all gone for a walk on the Corniche, or at least that’s what they said. Jealous! When we returned to the apartments, we had the afternoon off. So Ben, Brannon, Mariam, and I found a nearby “park” near the British Embassy to play Frisbee. Soon, all sorts of kids – mainly boys under 12 – appeared out of nowhere! A couple men also appeared, but they warily kept their distance. Moutaz also joined us a little bit later. Mariam got wacked in the head a couple times, as did one of the youngest boys until his mother called him out of the circle, but until 5:20 pm when Mariam and I left, I was really impressed with the Frisbee skill of many of the boys. I have yet to see any sort of outdoors sports equipment besides a soccer ball employed by the local population.

That night, when I was working on communications to home and friends, I came across a Portuguese song from a Brazilian CD that includes the word “meshii” – in ECA this word means “OK.” I showed it to Mariam, who then started what became a hour long conversation on Spanish music styles that included YouTube and eventually ended in another hour of me teaching her basic salsa and tango steps. The idea of the frame didn’t really transfer, but I am happy to report that my time with Luther College Ballroom/Swing paid off! The next night I found myself teaching Moutaz how to tango – tangos are apparently used during weddings, and Spanish musical styles are popular here, though I have yet to see anything but Gaga/Kesha/Usher/Pussycat Dolls takeoffs in popular music videos. More on that later.

 

Wednesday’s class was taught by our first ustaaza (feminine form of “teacher”) – her name was close to Emsa’. Her English grammar and speech pattern was similar to Mariams, both of whom have a distinct stylistic difference compared to Moutaz, Ustaaz Emdel, and Dr. Mohamed. Moutaz taught himself English, so he’s still working out the kinks grammatically, and his English more closely reflects the style of people I meet in the streets – their formal classes in English limited to primary school. Ustaaz Emdel and Dr. Mohamed have both lived in the States, and their English is very close to our pronunciation, albeit with a slight accent. And Mariam and Ustaaza Emsa’ take pride in their university education in Egypt, which makes me wonder if theirs is indicative of an Egyptian university English program.

Anyway, after class we went to the Alexandria National Museum, which in contrast to the Cairo Egyptian Museum is space age. Glass cases, air conditioning and presumed humidity control, aesthetic organization, well-informed guides for each period, good lighting, even some text panels. However, I would still adjust some lighting for better viewing, adjust the level of humidity and dust in the artificial tomb housing a preserved mummy, and work on distinguishing Mamluk from Ottoman from current day periods. I have very little knowledge of post 17th century Egypt, and would like to identify the various subperiods better.

Lunch was at Gad, an incredible fuul, ta’amiyya, tahini, hummus, aish, baba ghanoog, bidinga’yn (eggplant) restaurant inside another stunningly aesthetic building next to the Corniche and the sea. Loved it! (Family, when you come, I’m taking you there.) Chris was in heaven – she’d talked up this place the entire Orientation. And because we were so far along the Corniche (this city goes for a long time along the sea), we went to Montaza Palace that afternoon instead of on Thursday.

Ahhh, the palace. We weren’t allowed inside the Samalek (now a really fancy hotel where Saudi princes stay) or the Haremlek (kept pristine), but Moutaz had worked as a waiter at the restaurant in the Samalek and so gave us a mental tour. The gardens around it are fascinating – when I return I’ll remember to bring my camera. There are pictures of us next to the sea at the palace on Facebook, thanks to Brannon and Moutaz. We wandered through the lawns of dry grass, date-laden palm trees, plants somewhere between yucca and aloe, and some sort of coniferous tree, also passing people bound for the public beach, restoration on a bridge (the area is somewhat submerged during the winter khamseen rains), ex-ex-president Anwar Sadat’s residence, and fishermen. The waves were incredible, and splashed with both allure and hints of dangerous undertow against the giant jack-like pebble and concrete supports. We spent some time there then returned to the parking lot of the Samalek, where we played more Frisbee until we began to hit a billboard with the last princess’s picture. Oops! (Oh, yeah: the palace was the residence of the British puppet king Farouk and family, who seem to be remembered better than I expected. Apparently the difference is that Farouk – there was also a Fouad at some point – consolidated wealth his way but kept inflation down, whereas Mubarak spread wealth through corruption and inflation went up.)

 

Thursday began once more with class, learning basic stuff compared to Wednesday’s verb conjugation. After class we went across the street to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, where an overly happy but quite nice guide took us on a tour of the library. As the architect was Norwegian, the design is way cool and innovative, not to say ethnicity has anything to do with design – just that I’m finding it a trend among Norwegian architects building off of each other’s designs. Anyway, I’ll probably do a whole post on the BA at some point, since I’ve already gone to 6 pages without pictures here. Sorry!

We gathered Chris, Mariam, and Dr. Mohamed at TAFL, then went home, where we bid them farewell. Chris should soon be in the States once again, reading our blogs from afar, but Dr. Mohamed and Mariam we should see throughout the semester. And thus ended Orientation – though we have until Thursday next free (Thursday is our language placement tests), and Sunday the 23rd begins classes. I, of course, have a lot more to say on initial impressions, but I won’t take more time on this post. As I finish the words of this post, I hear the call to midday prayer spread from the very east of the city closer and closer…I’ve missed this.

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Cairo Orientation

Time September 12th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

We were in Cairo for just under five days, which means that we went to Alexandria on Sunday. Let me assure you, I am in Alexandria, and am in great spirits. For the entire duration of our stay in Cairo, and the beginning of our time in Alexandria, we students have been in orientation programming. I’ve definitely enjoyed my time thus far, and expect to continue enjoying life. Because it’s orientation, we’ve had a rather jam-packed few days. Ergo, beware the length of this post.

Thursday started relatively early, meeting at 8 am to go to the Giza pyramids. I specify “Giza” because, as our tour guide liked to say, there are 131 pyramids in Egypt. Giza, though, is larger than the pyramid complex – our apartments are in Giza the city, which is across the Nile from Cairo. However, driving to the Giza pyramids took at least a half hour; traffic even on Thursday (the last weekday) is intense. There is an incredible stark difference between the pyramid complex and the city – in one there are apartment high rises, tons of people, and the people with intensity and fervor. At the edge of the complex, limestone cliffs give way to sand, which extends as far as the eye can see, speech slows down to facilitate cross-cultural understanding, and the ratio of foreigner to Egyptian increases significantly. Let me not understate this: the pyramids ARE FREAKING HUGE!!!!! And incredible engineering, from the earthquake-resistant interconnected blocks, to the height, to the cementish substance of limestone, sand, and water, to the creativity involved on the side of the Sphinx (a rock hill was in the way of a perfect east-west axis, so the architect carved a lion with his pharaoh’s portrait). To put the controversy at rest, our tour guide informed us that the Great Sphinx has no nose because it was defaced, like the Bamyan Buddhas or the current UNESCO drama in Timbuktu, by Islamic fundamentalists. On this, I think I will believe the guide, as he kept emphasizing his forty year plus position as a research-oriented Egyptologist.

After the morning at Giza pyramids, we ate koshary (Egyptian food made from pasta, lentils, rice, fried onions, and doused in tomato sauce and/or vinegar – super cheap and tasty), Chris presented us with information on IFSA’s services and safety considerations, and Dr. Mohamed presented on living and studying in Egypt. While I knew the majority of Chris’s safety information, thanks to the diligence of my J term profs and SIT Jordan, I was hit with the thought in the middle of listening to Dr. Mohamed that IFSA is treating us like I treat campers – the absolute most important thing is our safety, well being, and comfort. We also had a presentation by Dr. Azza Kamel of the Women’s Parliament, an organization dedicated to uniting disparate forces to fight for women’s rights – which is when I began to realize how much of an activist Mariam is. Sometime that day we also met Reebal, our Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) teacher for our time in Cairo. Over the next few days, Reebal spent seven hours trying to give us an overview of important phrases, grammar, and vocabulary in ECA. He gave us our first homework – a very short fill-in-the-blank conversation. Supper was the rest of my koshary, since the amount of carbs given for lunch was way too much for me.

Friday started with some flurry of activity on Atlanta’s part. She was supposed to leave for Dubai and her orientation for Sharjah, and to that end she woke earlier than us to go to the airport. As Jenny said later, they all were given such a jolt when they arrived at the airport to find it surrounded by police in riot gear. Chris, who had gone along to drop them off, was taken back to the three days of the Revolution she’d witnessed before being evacuated. Apparently, the entire staff of the international flights had gone on strike. Really?! Another strike? So, Atlanta and Jenny were with us for most of Friday as well – they finally got to Dubai at 6 am Saturday. Therefore, Jenny and Atlanta accompanied the students, Mariam, and Mr. Mamdour to the Egyptian archaeological museum. Mr. Mamdour is in charge of our apartments and is great for outings and bargaining, and Mariam is the new IFSA Cairo Student Services Coordinator.

As for the Egyptian archaeological museum, my opinion varied. The actual artifacts are cool, and our tour guide, as a research-based Egyptologist, had neat insights and skills to interpret the artifacts to put them in their historical and social contexts. For instance, we heard Pharonic Egyptian read from hieroglyphics! (Greeks wrote down what they heard for bureaucratic purposes when Alexander the Great took over.) I got a chance to actually physically see many objects I learned about in previous classes and readings – Tutankhamun’s treasures, including the mask and solid gold sarcophagi, statues that Greeks used to form kouri, sarcophagi with Nut (goddess of sky) carved into the top, food and animals left in tombs, games, household items, clothing, mummies…and a statue of one block of limestone carved into a pharaoh and wife portrait over 6.5 m tall! However, one result of my classes is that I believe firmly in better exhibition practices than shown by the museum. Little to no air conditioning, humidity control, interpretive text panels, barriers from touching or defacing artifacts…the list of things necessary to proper preservation and interpretation continues. I understand the museum is under construction, and a new facility is scheduled to open in a couple years near the Giza pyramid complex – perhaps that facility will preserve the artifacts in better conditions.

The rest of Friday was spent in ECA class, a heath/medical presentation by a trusted MD, and a musical performance by a takht band. Takht is Classical Arabic music, similar in some sense to Sufi music, but different in important ways. Classical Arabic has not only the normal whole and half tones, but also quarter and eighth tones as well. Much of their music seems to be based on solfeggio, an interesting commonality with Western music. Not only did I enjoy the music, and the chance to talk to the musicians about their instruments and studies, but we also had two important surprises that evening. The first was that Dr. Mohamed’s family joined us for the performance! All five (two daughters, one son, and both parents) speak Arabic and English fluently, love meeting the new students, and have incredible senses of humor. Conversation flowed very easily between us students and the kids, the oldest of which just graduated from secondary school. The family brought us a tray full of sweets and a sorbet/bread cake. Yum! Later, we had the most essential of all Egyptian foods: Pizza Hut. J It was all really good.

During the performance, Dr. Mohamed took his kids to the side, and at a break, they all came out with…our luggage! We were so surprised – Chris had mentioned earlier that day the miracles that IFSA can pull off, and poof! In all honesty, I wasn’t looking forward to the planned trip to City Stars post-performance – I had other things I wanted to do, like email, a shower, and sleep – so having our luggage saved me from being flexible. After the performance, instead of going to City Stars, we stayed in the IFSA office talking about the Revolution. Chris told her story of how the Spring 2011 students evacuated, with interjections from Dr. Mohamed, his two eldest children (Sharif and Duwa’), and Mariam. So, what I’ll say from that conversation is that the people were really peaceful and more interested in nonviolent protest. The violence was mainly in retaliation against the corrupt police and governmental figures. I’ve been through Tahrir Square more than 5 times – it’s a normal square.

Saturday also was very interesting. The first item on our agenda was a three-hour lesson with Reebal, an hour more than our normal lesson. I enjoyed the long class more than I expected, though I think I do prefer two hours. After lunch (which wasn’t really lunch, as we spent most of the time at Mobinile buying the guys phones and adding credit to mine), Dr. Khawla El-Saady of the regional office of the UN’s Information Center spoke to us of the UN’s efforts in the region regarding the Arab Spring and in Egypt specifically. To be honest, I knew programs like the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, UNESCO, and UNICEF are UN programs, but as she said, most people (and even I) think of the Security Council as the central branch of the UN. I didn’t realize the Security Council only deals with the political situations, and the programs are more or less independent. As a journalist, Dr. Khawla believes the media plays an important role in disseminating information, and the public’s opinion of an organization or system is determined by its presence therein.

Then we piled into the van and drove downtown to Felfela, a restaurant not too far from either Khan El-Khalil or Tahrir Square. We had the staple in the Egyptian diet: fuul! Well, to be fair, we also had bread (aish) of two kinds, tahini, baba ghanooj, eggplant fried in vinegar and garlic galore, lentil soup, water, ta’amiya (called elsewhere falafel) and three kinds of fuul – straight up, with onion (my personal favorite), and with vinegar and tomato. There was also a sauce made of cooked leaves that appeared similar to spinach, but gooed like gluten, called mulwakhayah (direct transliteration from the Arabic – sorry!). All in all it was a delicious and filling meal. Sharif, Chris, Mariam, and Dr. Mohamed ensured conversation flowed easily – and we don’t a hard time talking or laughing.

After supper, Mr. Mamdour took Mariam, Jeanette, Ben, Brannon, and I through Khan El-Khalil, the oldest street market in Cairo. Yep, it’s a street market, filled with all sorts of people, Egyptian products, tourist traps, hardworking locals, overhead flags and lights woven between buildings, and coffee shops called ahwas. In ECA the qa in qahwa (coffee) and many other words isn’t pronounced. We settled into an ahwa, got tea with mint (the best kind), water, and a sheesha, in which only one person partook. As we sat, people watching and laughing, wandering vendors frequently approached us, but a simple denial worked to help them move on. Then, some more walking took us to the treat of the evening: whirling dervishes. We sat for an hour before the program started, people watching, catnapping, and practicing ECA. There were significant differences between what I was expecting (based on the dervish show I saw in Turkey) and what I saw in Cairo. For one, the men were colorful and showy; for another, they started with three or four layers of skirts and ended with one, having twirled each skirt layer off their bodies, above their heads, and even into the air. I was amazed, simply amazed, at the strength and stamina of these men. Wow.

And, then, back to the apartments because packing needed to occur before our 7:30 am departure for Alexandria! (I had a movie that went with movies, but the Internet wasn’t letting it load. Tomorrow I will try again.)

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Planes

Time September 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Some of my cloudscape flying to Chicago

“Beep biip.” “Beep biip.” “Beep beeeeeeeeee……” I was listening to the boarding checks of the people in front of me in Minneapolis, but when I handed the staff member my boarding pass, the second beep kept going. Shucks. Earlier, I’d accidentally almost had my backpack searched in the security check because I forgot to take out my tiny bag of liquids. Now, my boarding pass had an issue. It’s ok, though, because the alert was only that the staffer had to switch passes withme – I’d gotten upgraded five rows to First Class. Wow!

That flight was adventurous only in that we flew over, yes over, cumulonimbus clouds – the very ones that we’d skirted while driving to Minneapolis. That meant I had some prettyneat cloudscapes to see. I landed in Chicago, having had twice the drinks (orange juice and water) as normal, and booked it to my next gate, which I’d quickly ascertained ended after a hike. I sat for all of 5 minutes (enough to pull out a book and begin reading) when boarding started.Perfect timing! Then, one absolutely perfect landing into Washington Dulles later,I had another hugehike from one end of the terminal to the near opposite to meet Jenny and Chris from IFSA. Yay! I was the first to arrive, and found out that we were meeting two young men (Brannon and Ben) and one woman (Jeanette) here, then meeting one other young woman (Atlanta, bound for the UAE) in Frankfurt. Which means….that we each get our own room in our apartments! Whoop!

While the four of us newcomers assembled, we found ourselves in conversation with a charismatic, just-retired flight attendant. She was bound for a wedding outside Rome, and was just taken with our decisions to study abroad. After we boarded the plane to Frankfurt, Jeanette and I sat next to another person very supportive of our decision. This person was a retired US Army officer, now part of a slew of people that create the environment necessary to train US military command centers in dealing with emergencies. From my point of view, it was super cool to be affirmed by complete strangers.

Two movies and at least three hours of sleep later, we arrived at Frankfurt and, one short walk through security later, took over two rows of seats at our gate. Ha! Now, we have only to wait a couple hours before the last leg of the journey. As I write this, it is 1:50 am CDT and 8:50 am Frankfurt.

 

Well…”only a couple hours” turned into a couple days. After a gate change,our flight to Cairo was cancelled, along with the majority of the other flights, thanks to the Lufthansa flight crew strike. I really hope the crews get a measure of what they’re demanding soon, because the airport is a mess of people, lines, and stress for the crew and staff still working. We walked around almost the entire airport, even going out of passport control and getting a German entry stamp, before standing in line for a long time…to be rebooked on an Alitalia flight to Rome to Cairo leaving after 10 pm. In the meantime, Chris did the majority of standing in line and we waited, slept, chatted, people watched, and Ben learned to spin a Frisbee on one finger. Between booking and leaving, Chris treated us to the first real meal since leaving home – an enormous sandwich and a giant mug of mint tea from Mondo’s. It was nearly all I could eat and my stomach wasn’t in tiptop shape, but later I wanted more.

 Jeanette and I played Kings on the Corner on top of one of her bags. The game itself was nearly as fun as the resulting confusion!

Our flight to Rome eventually took off, filled with peoplewe now recognized. Now, I don’t remember what I did during that flight. But, I do remember a pretty sunset just as we boarded. Italian was the primary language onthis flight, close enough to Spanish that I understood more than expected. Cool! However, we touched down in Rome about 10 minutes after our connecting flight left for Cairo. Even so, we quickly set off to the other side of the airport to check, booking it past closed shops and empty counters. Weird, going past so many closed shops. Later, we found the rebooking counter, and Chris once again stood in line (Italians mob more than queue) while we got to chill, sleep, eat granola, cookies, and Smores Ritz Bitz, call home, and even play a little bit of Frisbee.Thanks Mom and Dad for packing me with food! We got booked at a hotel for free around 11:30 pm, shuttled there with what seemed like forty of our closest friends, and I entered my room (in Rome!!!) around 12:30 am Wednesday. Finding my room was a challenge, because the only access was one stairs from the floor beneath – rooms on the 8th floor were seemingly towers on corners. I scared away some pigeons on the fire escape looking for the door. Adventure!

   Thepanorama view from my hotel room the next morning – the left most picture shows I could see the Tyrrhenian Sea!

One shower and maybe 5 hours of sleep later, I was back on the ground floor, waiting with my group for the bus to the airport. We were booked on the 11:55 am flight to Cairo, and this one we weren’t missing. Shuttling back to the airport, we passed within 3 km of Ostia (I saw some Roman ruins and the archaeological site signs!!) and went over a river I’m going to assume, with some reason, was the Tiber. Wow! The parts of Rome we passed made me think of Denizli,Turkey, near the Cotton Castle of Pamukkale – a neat throwback mentally. After getting our boarding passes and getting stamped yet again for Italy, Chris gave us each 10 euros for breakfast. Mine? A chocolate muffin, two 75 cl (perhaps ¾ of a liter) bottles of water, and a Bufalino sandwich – meat, arugula, and four small blobs of fresh mozzarella cheese. Wonderful!

 Leaving Rome, we went over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sorry about the plane wing; I took what seat I was offered.

And then we actually boarded the plane to Cairo. The plane left Rome and flew over Sicily, smaller islands, the Mediterranean Sea, and what I’m assuming was the Delta.

 The Egyptian Delta meets MediterraneanSea.

Then, we circled just south of Saqqara(I saw a large step pyramid – they’re real!), went over sand and around the extremely definitive boundary between green and sand, and landed. Wow, Cairo’s air is hot, smoggy, but good.

  The Egyptian desert, from a plane window, and it’s definitive line between Nile-fed green and sand.

To finish Wednesday off, we spent yet more time in the airport, because our luggage was not in Egypt.

Ben and his Frisbee – a video of Ben’s accomplishment in the Cairo airport. Brannon is behind him.

Today (Thursday), we found that it’s very likely to be in Germany still. After filing luggage claims, we met Dr. Mohamed, piled into a van run by Misr Travel, went to City Stars (the largest mall in the Middle East) to purchase clothing (couldn’t find a clothing store in my style or price range in 2 hours because we spent too long walking around and in the Egyptian “Target” called Spinney’s), and went to our apartments in Misaha Square. There, we met the rest of the IFSA staff, went up to our flat, and finally nabbed Internet, showers, and sleep. A wonderful end to the day!

 The view of our apartment reception room (living room) in Cairo. It’s seriously a huge flat.

So, in summary, I started with 5 boarding passes. I now have 10 passes in my possession, and the first of many adventures yet to come.

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Yaki-Soba…the Cooking Trial

Time August 28th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As you know, I’m conscious of the fact that this semester, for the first time, I’m cooking for myself. I’ve been asking people for recipes of tasty food, beginning my personal recipe box. Unlike most recipe boxes found in houses, small or large containers stuffed with a family’s lifetime collection of index card-sized instructions, mine is digital. I have no box in which to store the index cards, and I’m also conscious of the size of suitcase I plan on taking to Egypt. Also, I have a brother who happened to send many recipes from our childhood via an email, and I saved time by simply incorporating his cache into a file on my laptop. (Thanks Drew!)

Anyway, this is my last week at home. When planning my family’s suppers for the week, my father suggested I try out cooking some of the recipes. So, last night I made yaki-soba, a recipe I took from my friend Kat. Know that I didn’t have access to the oyster sauce or dry sherry the recipe calls for, but I would welcome comments on this dish. Does it look correct? Could I boost the flavor somehow? Also, any other recipes are welcome as well.

 

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Let Me Travel Now! (Please?)

Time August 23rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I returned home from five weeks at camp about 10 days ago. Now, as I go through the pictures, selecting pictures for Facebook, and turning over plans to get friends to these wonderful, beautiful, protected areas through which I guide, I realize that I want to travel. Now! Following that train of thought, I realize, Duh. I am traveling. I have huge plans to travel, for a semester. That should be good enough, right? Wrong.

I want to be packing for Egypt, not unpacking from camp. I want to be flying into Cairo, not staring at my computer screen. I want to be talking to my roommates, not just imagining who they are. I want to have material for this blog coming from my person in another place, not just material originating between neurons in my brain. I want to be experiencing the challenge of the cultural transition – I know I’ll have a tough time adjusting to the cultural idiosyncrasies that come naturally to Egyptians but not to Americans. I want to be encouraged to learn a foreign language with a completely foreign alphabet because I’m forced to see Arabic everywhere. I know – oh so well – that I’m at the point of purchasing clothes for Egypt that I need to be there. I simply can’t find what I want to wear, culturally appropriate for the Middle East, in the States. I can’t buy the groceries I want to eat abroad while I’m on this side of flights. I can’t buy my textbooks, set off on exploring Alexandria or my classes, while I’ve not even been oriented completely. I’m ready to start living near the history that’s in the making, instead of following it via journalists. I’m ready to learn how the Egyptians view their tumultuous history, instead of listening to Westerners and reading non-fiction books.

I am spending a week visiting a friend in Colorado then helping her drive back to Luther as she and my Luther friends finalize their dorm organizations. A cousin is starting Luther this year – and the combination of listening to friends talk about specific moving in plans and helping my cousin prepare for his first year at college reminds me that I am leaving my core support network at home. Because I leave the States three days after Luther starts classes, I am really really ready to be doing something other than packing. Partially all the relationships I leave at school are on my mind, but also because I’m just ready to go. I’m done with talking the talk of studying abroad. Let me walk the walk.

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Answers to Watch For…

Time August 13th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’m three weeks from my flights. After driving to Minneapolis, I will fly to Chicago to Washington Dulles to Frankfurt to Cairo. Jeepers. But, at this juncture, there are a few rather important things that I know will figure themselves out…Eventually.

 

  1. Groceries. I have spent the last two years of college life in a dorm on campus eating out of the campus cafeteria – no cooking, little cleaning to do of my own. I grew up on a farm – my family grows vegetables for a living, my folks purchasing what food we don’t produce from local livestock farms, lockers, or small town grocery stores. I am a hardcore omnivore. This is a potential problem, because my conception of buying groceries is in a crowded bazaar (or souk) like the Spice Market in Istanbul, Turkey. I am not worried about the vegetable and fruit aspect – I am excited to try out new veggies and fruits that don’t grow here and learn how to prepare familiar ones in Egyptian fashion! But for meat…well, shucks. I don’t want to kill my meat, and I actually have no practice cleaning chickens or cattle or hogs, let alone goats or sheep. I have plucked a duck once. If I find someone selling dead meat, will I be able to trust that meat to not give me food-borne illness? Will I need to be a vegetarian for the semester to combat potential illness?
  2. City life. I loved being in Turkish and Jordanian cities during January. I love walking through Duluth, MN, on my Saturdays off at camp. But I do really love personal space and broad swaths of nature. I know I will adapt to Alexandria space and buildings everywhere, but can I really be comfortable without the ability to be completely by myself? Will I find places to be truly alone?
  3. Water. My family’s farm sits across the road from a state-owned wetland, with prairie-surrounded marshes on our land and a river flowing to the east. Luther has a river flowing through campus. And I guide trips down Wisconsin rivers, on Lake Superior, and through Voyageurs National Park. At Luther I began consciously reducing the amount of water I use, but I am American. I have easy access to vast amounts of water even though the activity of the nation is incredibly detrimental to Midwestern aquifers, such as the Oglala aquifer under my farm. I remember signs in our Jordanian hotels reminding us to be conscious that Jordan is a desert. Alexandria is also in a desert nation, albeit laying directly in the Nile Delta. Can I shuck American choices and unreservedly respect the water amounts available in a desert country?

 

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Prepping Through the Summer

Time August 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I suppose you may think that with preparing to study abroad for 4 months, a full semester, that I’d spend quite a bit of time actively preparing. Well, that is right…to a degree. And you may think that I may be trying to tone down my activities before diving into a semester nearly guaranteed to be filled with new adventures, travels (besides going to a new continent!), and some challenges. Well… to an extent, that is right again. What you don’t know is that my quasi-attempt at doing both of those idealistic things practically made me more busy.

The first half of the summer I did spend quite a bit of time preparing mentally, researching in the evenings and talking over expectations with my parents. You see, my family is planning to visit me in Egypt at the end of my stay. I wanted to be able to prepare them as best I could before the second half of my summer. The transition point between first and second halves of summer came pretty much on top of getting my wisdom teeth out. Yep. That put me out of nearly all activity for a week. And, now deep in the second half of my summer, I’m only able to catch up on news, research more, and work through prep logistics on one day a week.

I spent the first half of summer working with my parents on our farm – hands on labor, with the sun of a drought zapping the crew’s energy. Kudos to everyone at home who have kept their spirits up and the plants happy throughout the drought! The second half of the summer I am spending at an adventure-tripping ELCA camp. I’ve been half of a guide team for two week-long trips, and am at the cusp of a third. I’ve also spent two weeks at base camp, working as support staff for other guides. Thus, naps compete with reading Middle Eastern, Olympic, and family news on our one day off.

After this next week, I’m going home for three weeks…ish. In the middle of those three weeks, a friend and I will be flying to Colorado for roughly four days. So I have fourteen days to pack for Egypt. I can do that – until actually counting for accuracy, I thought I had maybe eight days. I feel better about the crunch time now.

Honestly, throughout the summer, with as busy as I’ve been and as tired as I get on weekends and evenings, IFSA-Butler’s newsletters and emails from my program directly have been great preparation help and catalysts for researching. I find myself scanning my inbox for IFSA emails first. Now, it’s like the next step is actually meeting the people I read about in those emails, in Cairo and Alexandria!

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Polemical Answers

Time July 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

People ask me what I’m doing with my life, and inevitably I talk about Egypt. I’m excited about studying Arabic at Alexandria University, so of course I’m going to talk about my upcoming semester! However, I get one of two responses from people who hear that I’m headed to Egypt: incredible excitement or utter dismay. The polemical nature of these answers does amuse me, though I do take the concern behind the answers seriously.

Looking ahead at the semester, I should have a blank slate of expectations. To be clear: I don’t. I went abroad for 3.5 weeks this past January to Turkey and Jordan. The night before I left, in the midst of a chat with a good friend, I realized that I had seriously no idea of what exactly I was getting myself into for the next month. I knew roughly what to expect getting on a plane for a cross-Atlantic flight, since I somewhat remember flying to London in 1997. I knew roughly what to expect after coming back, since the spring semester was my second at Luther College. As for the month itself, my mind only gave me a blank, sheerly grey space of time. And that month turned into a wonderful set of experiences and learning and laughter with my classmates as well as various Turks and Jordanians. So, learning from the past says I should have little to no expectations heading into something to which I’m dedicated.

But, having that set of experiences in January means I have a starting point for my semester in Egypt. Before Turkey and Jordan, my only knowledge of Middle Eastern culture was from books and college courses. Now I’ve lived in the culture of lore at the center of the grand mixing pot between Africa, Asia, and Europe. I know that the Arabic concept of beautiful art and decoration is incredibly busy. Middle Eastern music doesn’t easily welcome harmonizing, a pastime of Luther students. Even before returning to the States, I began paying more attention to international news, especially since the Syrian massacres began to degenerate into sectarian violence and Egyptians popularly rejected Hosni Mubarak as tyrant. Professors bid me farewell from Luther with caveats concerning heckling. There are probably challenges and wonderful things ahead of me, and I hope I’m prepared for the mix.

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