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

Spring Break: Alexandria, Egypt Pt. 1

Time April 13th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Sharjah UAE, United Arab Emirates | No Comments by

*Note: written on drive from Alexandria to Cairo and edited at the hotel lobby outside Cairo same day

Finally, spring break, a much needed break from the the hustle and bustle of life at university. For spring break IFSA-Butler invited us to travel Egypt for the week. When I heard of the opportunity I was very excited. On the trip with me is Moises, another IFSA-Butler Student, Kiri, our program director, Dr. Mohamed El-Komi of the Cairo program and program directors from Alexandria and Cairo. I would like to thank IFSA-Butler for this opportunity, because I know without them this trip would not be possible. Lodging, excursions and meals have all been provided by IFSA-Butler and have been very generous!

This was my first experience with regional flights in the Middle East and I have been told they are quite the adventure, but Egypt Air wasn’t too crazy. Yes, they showed the same 1980’s movie twice and the saftey videos didn’t work, but the flight itself wasn’t bad, and they served tea through out the trip! We were met by Dr. Mohamed, Mariam and Moataz at the airport outside of Alexandria and were on our way. Our first night was to be spent at the Opera. We had to change in the bathroom of the restuarant we were at, but I think we turned out pretty good. We listened to Egyptian jazz drummer, Yehya Khalil. It was a very enjoyable and relaxing start to our break.

The next day was very busy! we started with a wonderful breakfast on the Mediterranean Sea. We then went to visit the University of Alexandria where IFSA-Butler Students would study if they chose to. We were given a tour of their facilities as well as their intensive Arabic program. Their Arabic program is much more refined and intensive as it is in Sharjah. We then walked down the street to visit the Alexandria Library. The library is gorgeous inside and out. Outside the building is covered in over 120 different languages and inside it hold a museum and the largest reading room in the world. Lunch soon followed, and with lunch came some deliciously fresh sea food. Dr. Mohamed did it again, the man knows how to order large amounts of delicious food! After lunch we took a brake that allowed me to watch the sunset from our apartment and then we went to dinner along the corniche.

Day two was also very busy! After grabbing a small breakfast from a bakery, we visited a day care that IFSA students usually volunteer at while in Alexandria. I met some great four year old children who thought I was quite the sight. being my height and not Arabic made me stand out! It was fun to play with the children some in the classroom and the playground. All of the children are working on learning Arabic and either English or French. It was very impressive to have a four year old talk to me in Arabic, French and English in the same 10 minutes. It makes me wonder once the United States makes a large push for foreign language in public schools. We went on to visit the Egyptian Museum of Alexandria that shows the blend of Roman and Greek culture with Arabic culture through out history (Don’t forget Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great!) After that we made a quick dash to the Citadel. The Citadel sits on the same land that the Lighthouse of Alexandria once was. The Lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world and was abandoned in 1323 after being greatly damaged by earthquakes. The Citadel though is a magnificent structure and provides great views of the Mediterranean.

We just took a quick stop at the City Center and had some delicious shwarma and are off to Cairo for the remainder of the trip. I can already tell this will be an exciting drive! the street is crowded, has no lane lines, and isn’t paved in many parts. Kiri and I plan to watch ‘The Mummy’ on the trip there.

This has been an eye opening trip already. It is great to see another side of the Arab World outside of Dubai. It is a part of the region that many may consider the “true” Arab world when compared to the sights of Dubai. I’m excited to see what Cairo has to offer, but not so much the traffic I have heard so much about!

I will post again after our time in Cairo, until then!

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Trip to SIWA!!

Time February 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

I am so sorry this post has taken so long! This past week the curriculi in every one of our classes here in Alexandria suddenly picked up. I had a debate to prepare and to participate in, countless pages of Islamic History to read, a very tedious powerpoint presentation to throw together and present, not to mention hours worth of Foosah corrections and language exercises. In short, I didn’t get very much sleep these past couple weeks and I apologize that I kept ya’ll waiting! So here is the story of our Siwa trip, as promised.

What all the fancy tour books and google images of Siwa fail to mention, is the “7” hour bus ride from Alexandria to Siwa. Oh, and not just any “7” hour bus ride, it leaves from Alexandria at 10 PM. And this isn’t Concord Coach Lines or a Greyhound, this bus is jam packed to the point where a reclined seat is inches from the face of the unfortunate soul stuck behind it. This bus also takes multiple stops… not for gas mind you, but for smoking breaks, usually more than 20 minutes each. This bus is also not the perfectly silent buses Americans expect, the driver of this bus very loudly plays the singing of the Quaran over the loud speakers… the entire trip. Passengers also talk on cell phones, keeping the ringer on, naturally. But despite all these things, the worst part is the temperature of the bus. In an attempt to counter-act the desert outside (or maybe as a result of the freezing temperatures outside at 1 in the morning) the bus is FRIGID. Sarah and I huddled the whole time in a weak attempt to obtain any form of heat.

Somehow, however, we all survived and at nearly 6 in the morning we arrived in a dark, deserted intersection in Siwa. Eventually, we made our way to our hotel for the weekend, the Dream Lodge. Upon our arrival, the hotel owner demanded we talk money. It was the longest twenty minutes I have ever experienced, and that’s saying a lot when you run 5k cross country. haha. But he did leave and in no time the three girls were cuddled in one big bed (that we had formed from two smaller ones). Before I knew it the sun was high in the sky, it was noon-time in Siwa.

At 2 pm our adventures began. All of us hopped into a jeep and made for the giant Western/Libyan Desert. The views were remarkable. Positively breathtaking. We drove around for a bit just soaking it all in when abrubtly we stopped and were expected to get out of the car at the top of a GIANT dune. Mr. M went to the trunk and grabbed a two foot long piece of wood with two loosely tied rubber footholds: a true Egyptian sandboard. Standing at the top of the dune with my feet slipping haphazardly on the smooth surface I had never felt so scared or so excited, especially not at the same time. The short ride was so exhiliarating and nerve-wracking.. and fun :) The only thing that kept me from going a second time was the immensely daunting task of climbing back up the very large sand dune. The first time was all that my calves could handle haha. From there we hopped back into the jeep and continued driving across the sand. We were taken to two springs in the middle of the desert, one cold, one hot. They were, quite simply put, beautiful. Two true oases. Before we knew it the sun was beginning to disappear behind the mountainous sand dunes. Watching the sun set in the middle of the desert was beyond words. Breath-taking, inspiring, beautiful.. nothing truly does it justice.

The Desert :)

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Shortly following nightfall we were driven to our final destination for the evening. Our campground in the middle of the desert. We were provided our dinner by candlelight, which promply went out. The food I ate tasted wonderful, especially the soup, but not knowing exactly what I was eating (thanks to the pitch darkness) made me very nervous to eat a large portion. I ended up going to bed hungry and I regret not trying more but I am thankful I didn’t wake up with any stomach troubles. After dinner we danced alongside a couple Berber musical group performers for a while then made our way to the hot spring pool where the boys braved the cold air in order to swim in the hot tub comparable waters. Out in the desert the stars are unimaginable. While sitting around the hot spring we gazed upon the Milky Way and were only limited by the number of constellations we could remember.

The following morning we left our camp to head back to the Dream Lodge. We arrived there exhausted but content. With little else to see or do in Siwa, the entire day consisted of sitting by the mineral pools, soaking up the warm rays and reading some great books. It was a desperately -needed afternoon that flew by all too quickly. I read until the words of my book were the same color as the sky and then we were off to dinner and back on the bus.  We arrived back in Alexandria Saturday morning a little after 5:30 am.

I will never forget my trip to Siwa; the beautiful desert landscape, sandboarding, the sight of the sun sinking behind the dunes, my night in the desert, or the simple majesty of a day by the pool. Despite the bus ride, it was a great memory that I will always cherish!

Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Ma’a Salaama!

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My Apartment and Other Egyptian Things

Time February 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

As promised here are some pictures of my lovely apartment! I share the place with two girls, Sarah and Emily. We each have our own bedroom. Emily was lucky enough to acquire the master bedroom which has its own bathroom. Sarah and I share a bathroom. Our apartment has everything a college student needs to survive: A giant fridge, a dishwasher, a washer & dryer, a big dining room table for study sessions and.. a BIG screen tv. The only thing missing is a DVD player and an XBox haha :) In all seriousness, though, the apartment is beautiful, huge and simply perfect. I feel like an Egyptian Princess lounging around the apartment!

The Front Entryway

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Also, after a month of living in Egypt I have come to understand some things about the country that I wasn’t expecting. Some things I have noticed/ observed that I didn’t know (or I assumed incorrectly) before living here include:

1.) Egypt is NOT a third world country. Before coming here I pictured Egypt as a dirty, cosmopolitan-desert mix with malaria and typhoid lurking around every corner. As a result I brought a boat load of hand sanitizer and even got myself a small water purifier. A bit of advice, don’t bring that much hand sanitizer. Just a small Germ-x or Purell bottle is fine. A refill tub is not necessary and it weighs a ton. It turns out Egypt has soap and water and paper towels that are quite useful.

2.) In regards to water – IT IS NOT THAT BAD. I use it to brush my teeth, I cook soup with it (not -boiled), I wash my hands with it and I have not had a single problem as a result. With that being said, I do recommend a small water purifier because I like to make Gatorade every now and then and it is VERY HANDY when it comes to washing fruit or veggies (which we eat a lot of every day).

3.) Even though Egypt is not a third world country, its sewage system is still pretty fragile. As a result, no toilet paper is allowed to be flushed, it should be placed in a waste bin/ small garbage can next to the toilet. And even more nerve-wracking is that nearly every public restroom does NOT have toilet paper. Let me repeat NO TOILET PAPER. I didn’t realize this coming here. Not only is it odd but it is the worst feeling ever (at least for me) when I realize there is no toilet paper in sight. So, for those of you like me, I HIGHLY recommend bringing a bundle of little tissue packets. They usually have them in the trial/ to go section at walmart or Rite-aid. They will quickly become the most essential item in your backpack, especially during orientation.

4.) I will never get used to driving around the city. The traffic is unimaginable. Take downtown L.A. or NYC but delete all traffic lights, all stop signs, all crosswalks, and every traffic related rule you learned in Driver’s ed. There are no lanes, cars make their own lanes. And I can’t count how many times I have been driven on the wrong side of the road. If there isn’t another car there, its fair game. Coming to four lane intersections is fascinating, no stop signs, no traffic lights. Drivers just honk to let people know they are there and that they are moving through. Honking has never taken on such an important role in my daily life. I had always assumed honking was related to road rage or solely to get the attention of another driver. Here, however, honking provides the ONLY rules of the road. One short honk – I’m here, Two short honks – I’m coming through, One Long Honk – MOVE!, etc. I often wonder if the honking system derived from ship signals (the horn and whistle).

5.) There are no rules when it comes to being politically correct here. There is literally no word in the Arabic language for politically correct. Taxi drivers will ask what your religion is and why. The cook in a roadside restaurant will ask your opinion of Morsi, of Obama, and of Bush (actually happened to us). It is quite startling and I never know the “right” answer to give. Generally the person asking is just curious and doesn’t mean anything by it, it’s just a friendly way to start a conversation. Egyptians don’t talk about the weather or use a compliment, or other American small talk topics, as a means to start a conversation. But sometimes, with the Revolution on everyone’s minds it’s just better to answer with an “I’m not sure about him”, or “I can’t decide”, or just “I don’t know”.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading! Tonight I am headed to Siwa with the gang. I promise to take lots of pictures and to tell you all about it!

Ma’a Salaama!

 

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Protests and Demonstrations in Egypt

Time January 31st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

I promised an update on the demonstrations/ protests that have been occurring recently so here it is. I have structured it like a timeline so the events of the last week are easy(ier) to follow. I will try to explain all the events as simply and correctly as I can, but this is just my interpretation. For more “reliable” resources here are some links to try:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21224643

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2013/01/201312672536410414.html

Timeline:

Thursday January 24th: On this day, Muslims in Egypt celebrated the birthday of Prophet Mohammed. In the evening, fireworks lit up the sky and cast light over small groups of protesters anxiously awaiting the anniversary of the Revolution. As much as I could tell, the protests were light and non-violent. This day marked the beginning of our week long “house arrest.”

Friday January 25th:  The second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. From the moment we woke up, our eyes were glued to the television screen. News coverage of the major protests went all day and covered the happenings of numerous cities across the country.  It started out small and quiet in every major protest location but come the end of the morning and after the noon prayers the crowds swelled. Flags waved, signs were raised, the yelling and chanting were so deafening it was nearly impossible to hear the commentary over the noise.  Violence broke out in many places. Stones were thrown, tear gas was used, cars (and I think buildings too) were set aflame. Watching the people pour into the streets over the course of the day and hearing the chants of the still desperate protesters brought up in me an odd sense of awe. I had never witnessed anything of this sort, it was almost inspiring to see and hear the cries for “Bread, freedom, and social justice”. A small part of me wanted to join in the fight against injustice, it was as if I was brought back in time to the American Revolution, taking a stand against the forces of tyranny, but this is not America, this is not “tyranny”. This is Egypt and it is their fight and I respect that whole-heartedly.

Saturday January 26th: Protests celebrating the anniversary continued on this day across all of Egypt. They maintained slightly smaller numbers on this day compared to Friday but generally the protesters still emphasized the end of President Morsi and the faults of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Today the verdict of 21 Port Said fans was given (see below). It didn’t make as big a news as the continued Revolution anniversary protests, however, it would quickly become bigger and more important than anyone could have imagined.

[youtube width=”550″ height=”400″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnqLemAmpso[/youtube]

 

Sunday January 27th: For those that don’t know, in February of 2012 , 74 soccer fans were killed at a game in the city of Port Said. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the murders and numerous anti-government conspiracy theories have gained a great deal of support. As far as I understand it, 4 minutes before kick off the hometown fans of Port Said ran from one side of the stadium to the other and began throwing rocks and shooting “fireworks” at fans from the visiting team of Cairo. Very quickly, things escalated and there are reports that many Port Said fans were using makeshift knives and even swords against the Cairo fans. When bystanders of the violence tried to flee, the stadium doors had been locked shut. In the end, 74 perished and approximately 300 hundred were injured. The controversy/ conspiracy theories stem from the fact that A. Every fan had to walk through metal detectors, so how could weapons have been snuck in, B. The police stood by and did not interfere in the violence as it was occurring, and C. The doors were closed and locked before the game had even started. To put another twist into the whole thing, it is understood that since the Cairo “fans”/populace played such a huge role in overthrowing Mubarak, it is possible that Morsi’s entourage could have feared another uprising and so instigated the whole thing. Regardless, when the verdict was read on Jan. 26th condemning 21 fans to hang on the noose, the streets in Suez and Port Said and even in Cairo went CRAZY. Everything became extremely violent and destructive.

Monday January 28th: The violence in Suez, Port Said and Cairo continued. Ismailia and Ramses also quickly become very hot spots. With the death toll of the weekend climbing over 50, Mohammed Morsi declared a State of Emergency in the three most violent provinces of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. With this he also enacted a curfew, requiring every person in each city be off the street by 9 pm or risk being placed under arrest. With this news, the country was yet again rocked to its very core. The most despised thing about Mubarak’s regime was his declaration of Emergency Law (which lasted for 30 years), wherein police are given the authority to arrest people on sight and police brutality is allowed to run rampant, unchecked by any government officials. Protests yet again erupted across the country, and Port Said continued to display its disregard for Morsi by STARTING its protests at 9pm, right at curfew.

Tuesday January 29th: Port Said, Ismailia and Suez protesters continued to demand the release of the 21 condemned soccer fans as well as the downfall of Morsi, who by now had gotten the attention of the entire country. Protests continued to start at 9 to demonstrate the blatant contempt for Morsi and his government. Other cities across the country began to make public demonstrations, displaying anger and frustration with the new regime. Funerals of protesters that died (over 20) demanding the release of the sentenced soccer fans, occurred throughout the city of Port Said. Thousands gathered to carry the coffins through the streets.

Since I was not able to watch the news tonight I won’t comment on tonight’s activities but my best estimate is that things are not calming down in the East (Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia) despite the Emergency Law and the curfews. More people are beginning to question the events of the soccer match and many more are questioning Morsi’s “Mubarak-Like” reaction to the events that have transpired since. The fate of those sentenced is still unknown as their case COULD be overturned by a high ranking Sheik (I think is the proper term) if he feels they are not deserving of death. But more trials of other fans are still to come and parliamentary elections are also just a couple of weeks away.

For now, the four of us remain under “house arrest”. Although the protests in Alexandria have not been especially violent or attracted large numbers, they don’t want us wandering too far from the university or our apartment and weekends will continue to consist of watching the news or movies until further notice. I pray that things will settle down soon and the truth will come forward.

I hope all of this was helpful! Please feel free to comment with any questions.

Thanks for reading! Ma’a Salaama!

 

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A Week in the Life of an Egyptian Study Abroad Student

Time January 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

Emily, Sarah, Matt and I have successfully completed our first week of classes!! Wa hamdu lilah! For this post I want to give you a snapshot of a day in the life of a student here (so far). Turns out it isn’t “much” different than attending class back home. :)

Our first day of classes had a comical start. We locked ourselves IN our apartment. As an extra security measure we locked the door from the inside but when we tried to unlock it, our keys wouldn’t fit in the keyhole. It wasn’t until Matt came to “save us” that we were able to get out. Our first classes start at 9 everyday but in order to get there on time we generally have to leave from our apartment at 8:15. That is one major difference from my college that is quite frustrating… I am so used to rolling out of bed thirty minutes before classes start. Another thing too, you have to look semi decent when attending classes. I try to dress as I would going out to the mall/shopping or the movies back home. Cute but it can still be comfortable. Make-up isn’t necessary, but I find I feel much better when I’m wearing it than when I’m not. From 9 until 11 we attend our first class. Yes, all classes here are 2 hours long. The majority of my teachers like taking a 10-15 minute break at the halfway point, but sometimes they don’t and we go the whole way through. You get used to it pretty quickly. What is harder to get used to is the 30 minute lunch break. That is hardly enough time to walk to a cafe, order, eat, and get back. The last couple of days we have skipped lunch and instead had quick snacks from the apartment or at Cinnebon (YUMM). After break is another two hour class and then we’re done for the day. All of my classes are going to be in the same room. The structure is set up really similar to high school which is hard to get used to after being in college for so long, but it’s coming along.

Matt and Emily enjoy a snack at the Cinnebon near our classrooms. The second floor overlooks the Mediterranean Sea   The two of us also enjoying Cinnemon rolls atop the Cinnebon near the University

The three of us enjoy a snack at the Cinnebon near our classrooms. The second floor overlooks the Mediterranean Sea right across the Corniche.

My daily diet haha A staple of my daily diet haha :)

Oh! My biggest complaint about the program thus far, all of my classes are ONLY with IFSA students. Not to say I don’t enjoy Emily, Matt and Sarah’s company, but I thought I would at least have ONE class with real Egyptian students. We haven’t gotten our language partners yet but once we do, I fear I am VERY dependent on them in meeting any Egyptian students. If he/she doesn’t want to socialize or take me to events with his/her friends, I will never meet an Egyptian my age. That makes me very nervous and disappointed. How am I supposed to conduct thesis research on the youth of the country if I never meet one? In shah Allah, everything will be fine.

In celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday we had treats and a performance by a Whirling Dervisher       Another picture of the Whirling Dervisher

In celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday we had treats and a performance by a Whirling Dervisher following classes on the 23rd.

On a brighter note, here’s a funny story from this week: One day we were blessed with an hour and a half for lunch so we decided to wander a bit and see what we could find. We ended up discovering a new restaurant that offered mozzarella sticks. I was so excited. I went up to the cashier to order a bean (fool) sandwich and some mozzarella sticks, but naturally, she had no idea what I was talking about. I used as much Arabic as I could but in the end I just agreed to the sandwiches she kept thinking I was trying to order. They weren’t. I ended up with some type of chicken with mayo and ketchup in a pita and cheese and green tomato and pickle on some sandwich bread. They were pretty terrible, but luckily, it only cost me about 60 cents so I wasn’t too heartbroken haha.

After class is another 35 minute ride back home. Tip: The cab ride is ten pounds every trip (about $1.25) so be sure to bring or get A LOT of small bills. We have struggled to find places that can make change and usually when we exchange money/ use an ATM we only get big bills. Once home we usually eat an actual lunch or grab a snack. Then we work on homework, blog, watch a movie, etc until 7 when we head to the gym downstairs for our daily fitness lessons. That is probably the best decision we have made thus far. As I have said before, it’s so expensive but it is such a stress relief and fun (and can be a hard workout)! Following our workout we enjoy dinner, either made or ordered in. One AMAZING difference between home and here.. everything and I mean EVERYTHING is delivered. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, random cafe’s, pastry shops, sandwich places, restaurants.. all offer delivery. By ordering over the phone we can avoid the traffic and the taxi fares, which is definitely something to consider when traveling anywhere. Sidenote: food here is generally very cheap compared to American standards. For example, a giant bowl of spaghetti with garlic bread cost me 25 pounds, which is about $3.60. Following dinner its more hw or a movie, then bed.

Our group at a restaurant right along the Corniche enjoying some lemon with mint

Our group at a restaurant right along the Corniche (a typical late lunch/early dinner) enjoying some lemon with mint

Our attempt at making Nutella Cake. We wanted something sweet to go along with our movie night

Our attempt at making Nutella Cake. We wanted something sweet to go along with our movie night yesterday (Jan. 24th). Just an example of some of the things we do after class.

It has been a pretty hectic week but overall I am looking forward to the rest of the semester. I worry about the Islamic Culture and History class, however. I fear that although I will learn a lot, the discussions will get very emotional. We’ve only had two classes and I’ve already had to bite my tongue on a couple of instances…we’ll see how the rest of the semester goes. But I am really excited about my Politics and Media class, which revolves entirely around the Egyptian Uprising/Revolution. And speaking of the Revolution, today marks the 2 year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution. Currently we are all glued to the tv, not knowing what to expect. We heard some demonstrations earlier today but they were too far away to see. I will post later on what happens by the end of the weekend. For now, it seems peaceful, but anything can happen. I am not scared for my safety at all, we are in a very nice neighborhood and Westerners aren’t currently being targeted. It is actually very exciting to be here “in the middle of” everything. I hope all stays peaceful and a transparent, secular democracy wins the day.

I promise I will keep everyone updated on what happens! Please stay tuned for that and for pictures of the apartment!

Ma’a Salaama!

 

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Arrival in Alexandria!!

Time January 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

What an amazing last couple of days!! First and foremost, the apartments are BEAUTIFUL!!! I will post pictures as soon as I have time to clean the place up a little (might be awhile haha). But in all seriousness, the way the living space is decorated makes me feel like an Egyptian princess. Huge china cabinets, a large dining room table with room for 8, a big screen tv, chandaliers, long victorian style curtains… it’s like living in a palace! I love it! :) The hardest thing about moving in was deciding who got which room (we each get our own bedroom). I, unfortunately guessed the wrong numbers and ended up with the smallest room but “mish mooshkilla!” The room has a beautiful wide window that overlooks the city and I get to wake up to the brilliant sunshine every morning. Plus, since I pushed the two smaller beds in the room together I now have one giant bed :)

After (and including) the initial move-in day, we were offered non-stop presentations by TAFL center teachers and University faculty as well as others. The presentations covered everything from safety and transportation in Alexandria to the ancient history of the city, to scuba diving (more on that later) and underwater archaeology. During the last few days of orientation we also had crash courses in Egyptian dialect. One class in particular was not very pretty… Essentially the teacher had us feeling like everything we had ever been taught was wrong. Emily and I were beyond frustrated.. but we survived. :)

Other than class and presentations we have survived other adventures… like our first trip to the grocery store. That was quite an experience. For any of you considering studying abroad in Egypt, I highly recommend bringing (or getting a care package) of peanut butter and bagels and granola bars. The staples we take for granted in the US are just not available here at all, or are completely different than what you would expect. Best example, the only pb available is creamy and you can literally pour it out of the jar haha. And especially for milk lovers.. be wary, the milk is verrry different. I recommend trying the chocolate milk boxes, they are delightful :) In some of our downtime we watched movies or tv (sorry no Netflix here!). Trying to interpret the Arabic movies has been so much fun and it really has provided much needed relaxation and entertainment. The last few days of orientation we also have had cooking lessons from a truly talented Egyptian chef, explored the Alexandria Museum, and played in the Mediterranean Sea. As for the museum,  it was much more put together than the one in Cairo, but it was nowhere near as big and it still struggled (very comically at times) with its Arabic. One of the more funny examples was “libs” instead of “lips”. I have officially decided that I love museums, I have a huge passion for history and to see some of those artifacts was beyond incredible. I was mesmerized the whole time the tour guide was speaking. I could have spent all day in there reading every single placard, but sadly we were off to the next thing. The next thing turned out to be a tour of the grounds of the former palace of King Farouk… absolutely breathtaking. I wish we had been able to get more pictures of the gardens and the palace but we were sidetracked by the Mediterranean Sea. Funny thing about that, we were wandering towards the beach when we realized there was a large gate blocking our entrance. Without hesitating I climbed over and continued towards the beach.. Guess I really am an Ole Miss REBEL. :)

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All of us in front of the Alexandria Museum, grounds of Farouk’s Palace

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The group at the beach and the ladies striking a pose along the shore

And then.. we had FREEDOM (for a day). It felt so great to do the things we wanted, when we wanted. We slept in, meandered to a local restaurant, perused the bookstore nextdoor, and, my favorite part, signed up for our gym classes!!! It’s pretty pricey but the classes are SOOO much fun. Yesterday we learned belly dancing and today we were doing crossfit and tomorrow is pilates. I am incredibly excited to attend classes every night and to continue making friends and to get in shape!

With freedom of course, comes responsbility, and this morning we began the real reason we are all here.. classes. With the first day successful and behind me, all of my anxieties are gone. Classes are just the four of us (thus far), the teachers have been great and the courseload is challenging but reasonable. We also have only a 4 day week every week (YES!!!) so that makes the prospect of traveling to other places and exploring that much more probable and inviting.

In short, the last days of orientation were busy but informative. Classes are great so far, more to come tomorrow and the rest of the week. My downtime consists of movies, chit chatting, and working out in the gym downstairs. And most importantly, I am so very happy, and so very excited to get the school year underway. There are so many things I look forward to!

Thanks for reading, and until next time,

Ma’a Salaama!

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Camels, and Pyramids, and Dervishers, Oh My!

Time January 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

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!

Ma’a Salaama!

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And the Countdown Begins… Blog Post #1

Time January 2nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Marhaban!

Hello friends, family, future Butler students and everyone!

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Elise Luers and I am a Junior at the University of Mississippi. I am currently pursuing a double major in International Studies and Arabic with a minor in Naval Science. I am a second class Midshipman within the Ole Miss NROTC Rebel Battalion and I also competed for the Ole Miss Cross Country and Track & Field teams my freshman and sophomore year. I am also a proud member of the Nu Beta Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi. Although I attend school in Oxford, MS, my parents and many friends lie far northeast in Concord, NH. But enough about my background. This blog is not a resume. This blog is going to tell a story, a real story. It will discuss the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the confusing, and the exciting. This is the story of my journey. The countdown for this journey is well underway. In just under ten days I will be 5414.04 miles from home… In Cairo… Egypt.

In 9 days I head for Cairo and shortly following a ten day orientation there I travel to my final destination at the University of Alexandria where I will be studying Arabic, Egyptian dialect, Islamic Culture and History, and Politics and Media. I have filled out all the paperwork, applied for all the scholarships, requested (and received) my visa, secured my health insurance, dotted all my “i”s and crossed all of my “t”s. The time to leave is approaching at a rapid pace. So what exactly is going through my mind 9 days before I wave goodbye to everyone and everything? 9 days before I venture “alone” into the unknown? 9 days before the United States becomes a distant, unreachable, piece of land on some map?

The only close metaphor I can muster that best explains how I feel is the feeling a competitor gets before a big (HUGE) game or match. Whether that be a State Championship or Regionals, Nationals or even the Olympics. This is the big leagues. Its the months (or years) of preparation, of studying and strategizing, of practices and work outs. All the sweat, all the work… for this one moment. You don’t know what will happen. It’s the butterflies in your stomach as you lace up your cleats. It’s the rush, the tingling in your blood as the crowd roars when you step on the field. It’s the nerves and the feeling you might not be able to breathe with so many people looking, watching, scrutinizing. You worry you might choke, that you might not be good enough, that you forgot your lucky underwear. Everyone has given their opinion; your coach, your parents, your teammates. All the ideas are swimming in your head, a little fuzzy but you think you have a general grasp of it all. Then before you know it, everything goes eerily silent. The whistle moves to the refs mouth, the gun is raised, the finger approaches the buzzer… the seconds pass like hours… suspense hangs in the air… the crowd holds their breath…

Right now I am in suspense. I fear I might forget that one piece of advice. That one word in Arabic I should have memorized. I worry about all the items I have bought for my trip. Are they enough? What if I leave something behind? You can drive yourself crazy with all the “What ifs”. My bags are not packed. In my mind I am constantly editing and re-editing what is necessary. The weather in Egypt in January is nothing like what it is in May. How does one prepare for that? Beyond the material items I worry about my family and my friends. Will I change while I’m gone? What if something happens to any of them while I’m away? Or me? There is no way to prepare for that. My biggest fear is that I will get too lonely while I am in Alexandria. That I will sit on my computer and skype my family and my boyfriend everyday and won’t explore, won’t take chances on my own. That I will want to crawl in a ball and cry because it is simply all too much.

Right now, my biggest advice (and what I keep convincing myself) is to trust yourself and let go. Know and understand that you can’t control everything. You can’t pack for every scenario. You ARE marching into the unknown, but its the unknown of the big leagues. You can achieve so much. You can learn so much. You can do so many incredible things and talk to so many wonderful people. Get excited! Get pumped! Turn up the pregame music! Soon the whistle will blow and before you know it the race is over, the final buzzer sounds. I am trying to take it all in stride, to grit my teeth and accept that I will get lonely, I will miss my boyfriend, I might pack completely wrong. But I want to enjoy this moment before the storm, that half a second when anything can happen. The trip right now is anything I make it to be. I can still win the game. I can still make this journey successful, inspiring, and fun. It is indescribable when I dream of at all that it can be. I imagine all the stories I will tell, the food I will try, the friends I will make, the adventures I will go on. And so, I will ignore the butterflies, I will trust my training, grit my teeth, embrace the rush and enjoy the emotional jitters of the big moment to come. Knowing that nothing has yet played out, its still up to me how this trip unfolds. I will watch the hand move, the gun rise, the finger fall with confidence and anticipation. I will continue my countdown by putting a smile on my face and stepping to the line standing tall despite the thumping in my chest, my shaking hands and the butterflies in my stomach.. waiting for the whistle to finally blow…

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Soccer Video

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Soccer Video by

Here is a soccer video. Last one of the day. I have a few more to upload but I have other things I want to get done today.


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Welcome in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Fun and Food in Alex

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

Edit: So wow I found this floating around in my drafts folder. I thought I posted it. Its from about the middle of the semester.

So right near my dorms there is not much to do. There is a round-about called Izzbit Saud and down Izzbit Saud is this street market. I’m not sure how to describe it. Some parts are dirty, brutish affairs. Some things make you question how everyone in Egypt hasn’t died from salmonella or some other kind of food poisoning. But others are perfectly clean and vaguely trust worthy. They have all kinds of fruits. Most of it seems legitimate. Others make me turn away because of all the flies.

You can buy live rabbits and chickens. But presumably the rabbits are for eating and not for cuddling, which is sad because they all look very cuddly. As we walked down the street one kid held up a headless chicken and says to us “Hey Americans?! You want buy chicken?!” It was funny. There are also pharmacies and sweety/pastry shops and we buy falafel and fool from a little hole in the wall near the top of the market.

I played football/soccer with all the kids from my floor on a regulation size stadium. It was so much fun. Egyptians take football seriously. They would stop the game every 5 or 10 minutes to argue about a foul or something. I was ok with it because I’m out of shape and after some serious running I would need a breather. But it bothered the american kids to stop all the time just for a pickup game. I’m not very good at football but I guess I’m pretty fast because I could keep up with everyone. Robert, one of the IFSA students, and Dean and Morgan, two private students, ended up joining the rugby team. I would love to play but I’d just get wrecked. Rugby is like football without the pads. Dean is built like a tank and he got hurt the first night of practice. But John, another student here, is taking me to this gym he found on Monday and I’m going to get a membership and a trainer. Get all buff and whatnot for when I go to Dahab. (This didn’t really happen. The gym was small and sad even though it was in a nicer club, so we only went a few times. I remained squishy and unbuff for Dahab).

We went out dancing for another Egyptian kid’s birthday. It was kinda funny because we went to this westernized dive bar called the Mermaid and almost nobody drank. They played the strangest imported American music too. At one point they played You Are My Sunshine. The music got a lot better once they stopped trying to play American stuff and started playing dance music. EVERYBODY danced. Even me and I generally avoid dancing (of course I was also the heaviest drinker at an extremely alcoholic 3 beers in 4 hours). It was crazy amounts of fun. I’ve never been to a bar or party in general and had that much fun. What made it even more interesting from a sociological perspective is that there were only 4 girls there and only 2 of them were good looking. So the guys mostly just danced with each other, or formed a circle while one person showed off in the center. I thought it was interesting because I can’t imagine that ever happening in the states. Men are too afraid of being accused of homosexuality to dance with other dudes.

The whole Alex IFSA crew and I went out to this fancy fish restaurant. It was really nice and we thought it was really classy. Then Trevor noticed the cat sitting on the windowsil next to me watching me eat my fish. I had fresh caught sea bass. Everyone else had red snapper. My giant 2 pound fish, my drink, my appetizer of ..deep fried shredded shrimp balls.. and my share of the appetizer spread cost me $14.05. In America that meal would have cost me 50 bucks. Afterwards we walked along the Korniche and found this juice bar. Juice is not the right word for it though. Its more like a smoothie. But it was delicious.

As far as my daily intake is concerned, breakfast is a couple fried eggs, this tough but thin pita pocket, and fool. My fool comes in different consistencies from the careteria depending on .. who knows what. Sometimes its thick like refried beans. Sometimes its thin like chili.

Dinner every night was chicken and rice, or kofta and rice, and some kind of vegetable stew. It was good, but after a while it got old eating the same thing every day.

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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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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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Classes and feeling at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Predeparture Entry 1

Time January 4th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In a few weeks I will be on a plane to Cairo. The excitement hasn’t hit me yet…

I am, more than anything else, stressed about finances, visas, immunizations, other program details etc. The faster I get all the formal work out of the way, the more relaxed I will feel.

I am trying to decide what I should pack. I think the weather will be very nice even though I will be arriving in the winter. I hear the beaches in Alexandria are beautiful year round…

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