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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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Arab Music!

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

Another video. This is of the band.


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College is the Same Everywhere

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

College really is the same no matter what country you’re in. I get up at 7:00am too tired because I went to bed too late the night before. I drag my half-asleep carcass to the showers and wash off and wake up. I get dressed and have breakfast of eggs, bread, and fool. You mix it all together and it makes a kind of breakfast burrito. We have hot tea and water and freshly puree’d guava juice. It has this odd texture I didn’t like at first but now I’m all for it. (Alternately I wake up at 8:00, skip the shower, barely make it to breakfast, and rush to catch a cab. it’s 50/50).

I catch a cab to class with Rob and Trevor, or sometimes Dan, maybe Conner or Dean. Lecture starts at 9. It is two hours with one ten minute break on the hour. I try not to fall asleep. The teachers aren’t boring but the room is FREEZING. They keep the thermostat at 16* celsius which is about 60* fahrenheit. Also as I said before I went to bed too late so I’m fighting fatigue. I’m done with school at 1:30. We catch battle to catch a cab home and the driver wages furious war with microbuses while old ladies play real-life Frogger. I get home and check facebook, look at funny pictures of cats and other stupid crap on the internet. I take a nap. Wake up, have dinner, and study for 3 hours or so. Play some old video game for a little bit, and then go to bed. This is more or less my day in the states. We don’t have class Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. This gives us time to travel or study or get lost in Alex.
All the IFSA kids have 2 classes together. One is taught by Aladdin Elbasset. No joke, his jame is Aladdin. Pronounced Ala-deen. That class is nuts. The first day he let us plan the syllabus, determine the % value of the final, the length of the papers, etc. We spend most of the 2 hour class just discussing topics in Islam.

The second class is more traditional. Except the Professor is more opinionated. He lectures just the same as in the US and it can be just as boring. It seems that like most Egyptians he has some questionable ideas. Dr Elbasset told us that homosexuality is looked down upon but is not forbidden and nobody is killed or persecuted because of it. This is demonstrably false. Dr Mansour thinks that Turkey’s government does not persecute non-islamic religions, and that its regime is very stable. This is also demonstrably false. He also takes some rather hard line stances on Islamic history. His agenda is apparent and unlike in the states, it is the CORRECT agenda. (it should be observed though that all professors have an agenda of some sort, some are just better at keeping it to themselves).

I have one class outside of TAFL, which I seriously suggest that everyone should do. There are some odd things – the teacher tried very hard to convince me that the class will be boring and not useful for my major at all. She seriously did not want me in her class. But the Egyptian students are nice and friendly but the same as in the US in some ways. Nobody wants to answer questions, nobody did the reading, and nobody remembers what they learned last year. Its a little odd that I’m the oldest kid in the class by a significant margin. Its also odd that even though I have no experience with linguistics in general or systems of grammar specifically I’m still more equipped to answer questions than these kids. Maybe its the language barrier. Maybe I’m just sooo much older than them and my acquired college knowledge is more useful than I thought. Maybe I just like to talk.

I did meet a lot of Egyptian kids. They’re all friendly and they all love to talk about politics, the differences between American and Egyptian cultures. Conspiracies.. Like this one for example. In the Yom Kippur war, Egypt retook the Sinai. The 6th of October is a national holiday akin to the 4th of July. Israel ended up coming back from the combined Syrian-Egyptian offensive and fought to within 60 miles of Cairo and 100 miles of Damascus. America gave Israel all kinds of planes and tanks and ordinance and other help. We may have even had black ops on the ground helping turn the tide. Egyptians are convinced that American soldiers fought on the ground in Egypt, against Egyptians, and that is the only way Israel won the war. According to one Egyptian student the IDF is so incompetent  and lazy, and the Egyptian offensive was so utterly devastating, that there is no way Egypt could have lost unless the American Army was involved directly. The reason nobody knows about it is because they wore Israeli uniforms. When I press them for sources of any kind what so ever they all tell me there are none. But they say it without blinking an eye, as if this should be obvious. I can’t find any suggestion of this on the internet anywhere, and the internet is the greatest source of lies and nonsense that mankind has ever devised. Is it true? Maybe (probably not). But Egyptians are generally convinced that this is the obvious and undeniable truth.

In any case I’ve added 10 kids to my facebook friends list and half of them must be named Muhammed.

Thats actually one of the nice things about being in Egypt. As much as I seem to complain about the bad stuff, the people here are generally very nice. All Egyptians hate the taxi drivers and in general they seem to be the worst people. But everyone else is really nice. I love the students. There are a bunch of Egyptians on my floor and they’re all pretty cool. Everyone is so eager to help me with my Arabic and I try and use it when ever possible. One funny thing that I hadn’t anticipated is learning names. Learning the names of Egyptians is like learning new vocabulary. The names are hard to pronounce and difficult to remember sometimes. But luckily most of them are derivative of Mohammed or Ahmed.

There are some cool American kids here too and I always have someone to hang out with if I get lonely.

So this video is part 1 of 2 from our taxi ride home. I just rewatched them and they’re a bit hard to follow. We’re heading back from City Stars in 2 cabs. In this video the cabs are keeping pace because one driver doesn’t know how to get to our hotel.  The next video just shows general traffic. It should be noted though that this is fairly late at night and after watching this, it’s still a light traffic night. I’ll try to take some video on the way to class when it’s bright out so you all can get a real solid idea.


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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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