Camels, and Pyramids, and Dervishers, Oh My!
Wow! The last four days have been such a whirlwind, it’s hard to know where to begin! I suppose I will take it day by day. Warning: My wifi is not cooperating today so there won’t be any pictures. I’m so sorry! Hopefully I can upload a bunch next time!
The last two days in Cairo were by far my two favorite days of my trip so far. On the 12th we explored the GIANT marketplace called Khalil Al Khalili and it was AWESOME! Picture the street scene from Aladdin and you’ve just about got it! Little shop after little shop filled with real silver, gold, jewelry, souveniers, scarves, dresses, spices, you name it! Everything was so colorful and bright, it was mesmerizing. I felt like I had been transported back in time. I loved it! While I was there I bought a couple small things, gifts for family and souveniers for myself (after a great deal of haggling). After exploring the marketplace for a couple hours we were ushered into this giant old building for a Whirling Dervishers performance. It was unreal! The performers play music and spin, but not just for a couple seconds.. they spin for half an hour or more at a time.. That would make me so dizzy! I was so impressed. The Dervishers are a Suffi group that put on shows displaying the techniques they use to communicate with God, music and dance. It’s very intriguing and fun to watch! You can Youtube it if you are interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnunfciSr7k
The next day was the day I was looking forward to most about coming to Egypt… SEEING THE PYRAMIDS!! After our morning Arabic class we jumped into the vans and headed for Giza. It was NOT at all what I was expecting. First, everytime you see the pyramids it looks like they are off somewhere deep in the desert.. not true. They are quite literally right in the middle of Giza. The city grew around them and keeps inching closer and closer. When we were driving you didn’t see them until all of a sudden they were right in front of you. I was also kind of saddened by how (relatively to the US) little care was taken to protect the area and make it a nice tourist destination. Horse, camel and donkey poop covered the walkways. Nothing was organized. Hagglers strolled from person to person begging or selling cheap little comodities. There was also a great deal of trash everywhere. It seemed the only rule that was enforced was no climbing on the pyramids (past a certain point). But despite the sad state of its surrounding area the pyramids themselves were stunning. I wish we had had the opportunity to go inside, but I think that will be saved for next time. Oh, also the Sphinx is wayyyy smaller than I originally thought, it looks so large and majestic in the photos but not true.. its about half the height of the pyramids and no where near as long. Nonetheless, it was still awe-inspiring to see! The camel ride was by far the best part. No safety equipment, no safety brief, no nothin’. We just climbed on and held on tight and hoped we wouldn’t fall off. Those things are HUGE. I never fully realized just how tall they are. And for those of you that are curious, evidently one of those camels is worth $2,000. And no, they didn’t try to sell their camels to buy me haha.
That would be our last night in Cairo as the next day we left very early for Alexandria. (Finally!) First impressions, the city is SOOO clean compared to Cairo and the architecture is absolutely incredible. Italian, Greek, Roman, French.. every style combined on the same building or starkly different styles right next door to one another. It’s amazing to see. The Mediterranean is also gorgeous and bright blue. I hope to go for a dip one day!
These last two days have mostly been filled with Arabic class, presentations, introductions, walking around our apartment and learning the basics about Alexandria. I am sad that we haven’t done much exploring yet but I suppose it can wait until a good three day weekend We also met with all of the TAFL center staff including our “babysitter”, who we like to call Mr. M. He basically accompanies us everywhere and tells us where to be when and what we can and can not do. It sounds like a lot of rules but he is really a great guy and he’s fun to be around. Also, I am grateful for him since I am so unfamiliar with everything here, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes/ can translate. The best example of this was our first trip to the grocery store yesterday. We were driven to this massive mall which contained a huge supercenter. We spent two hours shopping with Mr. M. He told us all about the good brands to get and the bad. He translated descriptions/ingredients of certain items (Sarah is allergic to tree nuts and Emily is gluten free so that became a big help very quickly). Tips for shopping here: 1. Don’t buy American brands. They are soooooo incredibly expensive. For example, a bag of cheetos was 10 US dollars. And there is almost always an Egyptian equivalent that is just as good but half the price. 2. Beware that not a lot of things you assume would be available are. For example, they have never heard of bagels or peanut butter here. They simply aren’t the staples of the area. Going along with that 3. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try something new. And lastly, 4. Trust your guide!! They have been doing this all their life and they know the prices and what is good, what’s not, etc. If you think you have different tastes, I can tell you, you probably don’t.
Sorry this is such a long post but there’s so much to tell! When I get some free time (which is few and far in-between during orientation) I will upload pictures of and write a post about our apartment … prepare to be jealous! Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have!