My apartment (Cairo):
Egypt. As I flew over the land it was clear why the Egyptians depended on “the gift of the Nile” for Ma’at (life) since the time of the Pharaohs. Vast desert surrounds a strip of green land that extends on either side of the Nile all the way to the Mediterranean. However, the major cities extend far beyond this green strip of land. Egypt has a population of about 91 million… nearly 20 million of those live in Cairo. To say the least, Cairo is a bustling city filled with traffic jams and hurrying pedestrians. However, the people are kind and welcoming. Many have made kind gestures and efforts to make me feel welcome.
My 4 days in Cairo were spent recuperating from jet lag, attending cultural events, seeing historical monuments, hearing about Egypt’s post revolution developments from key note speakers, and practicing my Egyptian Arabic. The event that I think the majority of you will be most interested in is the pyramids. Lying just outside of Cairo, the pyramids are swarming with tourists, tour guides, and vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs. Nevertheless, seeing the historical site made the past lives and beliefs of the Egyptians a little more concrete and real. The largest pyramid, the pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) can be seen on the outskirts of Cairo, from miles away.
A view from the back side of the pyramids. Behind them you can vaguely see Cairo:
Unfortunately, climbing wasn’t allowed.
I also got to hear some traditional Arabic music from a young group of talented musicians called El Tacht. They played for us in the office of IFSA-Butler, Cairo. I had heard of the “Arabic classics” before, but hearing it live and seeing the amount of talent it takes to produce that kind of sound was a impressive. The intricacy and technicality of the music, like all great classical music, is far more complex than the standardized pop music of modernity.
Here is a taste:
If you know a little about Cairo, then you might know about the Khan el Khalili. It was… stimulating to walk down tiny little alley ways with hundreds of shops lining both sides, people moving too and fro, and solicitors everywhere. While in the area I attended the “whirling dervishes”, which was an hour and a half performance containing classical style Arabic music with drums, dance and men spinning continually with heavy, bright patterned skirts. How they don’t fall over or throw up is beyond me. I’ll leave some up to your imagination…
My favorite part of the Khan el Khalili was sitting down at a traditional coffee shop and having a glass of shay (tea) with a hint of peppermint and watching people move about in their daily lives.
I am writing now from Alexandria, a much less crowded city than Cairo (still “bustling” though). Most of my time in Alexandria has been spent in orientation- learning about the different areas around the city, getting to know the campus, and Arabic language sessions. I’m starting to get settled in now and I’m ready for orientation to end so I can start living like a student living in Egypt rather than a tourist. The events thus far have been nice, but I’m excited to began struggling with the language on a daily basis as I pay for food, call for a taxi, ask for directions, make new Egyptian friends, and explore the city on my own. Even more than seeing the historical monuments and the cultural events, this is the learning experience that I want most of all and that I’ve been most excited about. I anticipate learning more in these situations than I ever could visiting a historical site or sitting in class. Stay tuned…