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Playing cards with the little ones/ midterms

Time April 28th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hi all,

It is strange to think that I just finished taking midterm exams when my friends back home are thinking about finals. Anyways apart from getting less sleep at night because I have been studying hard for my Arabic and Egyptology midterms among others I have of course also found time to have fun.

So I was at this family party (not my family) and I was looking after the little ones ranging from the ages of three to seven. (I tend to drift and play with children when I am at gatherings). Omar, Yahia, and I decided to play cards. Actually we were using the cards from the game “UNO.” As we were playing a made up game by Omar (5), I was communicating with the children in Arabic and they were talking back to me also in Arabic. We played for about forty-five minutes until we got bored and decided to do something else. The reason I have retold the story is because when you can play card games with children in the language you have recently started to learn this turns into one of the signs that shows you really are learning something. Actually, I find that children are the best to practice Arabic with because they will only speak Arabic to you. (It forces you to use all of the vocabulary in your repertoire).

In addition to the party I have also gone out to eat, believe or not, at Macaroni Grill. I know you are probably thinking why would I do that being in Egypt, but I just had a craving for Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo and it was the only place I could think of.

All in all I have been having a marvelous time per usual. I recommend to all of my readers to try and come visit this marvelous country and if anyone is considering the IFSA program I would definitely recommend the one in Egypt.

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“Family Weekend”

Time April 14th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Hi all,

I have been very busy catching up with school since my parents were here last week. It was really great because I had the opportunity to do all of the touristy things again. One of my favorite things in the world to do is ride to on a “felucca” down the Nile.  A “felucca” is a sail boat without a sail that you can ride for one hour on the Nile listening to music and dance or sit and enjoy the nice breeze and scenery. My parents were able to experience this the second night they were in Egypt and they loved it as well.

You know you learn about the Nile River when you are young in school in geography class and you dream about seeing it one day in person, and when you finally make it to Egypt it truly turns out to be magical. I don’t know why I feel a sense of tranquility when I see the Nile. It is somewhat contradictory because I am currently studying in Cairo, which is a large, busy, and congested city, yet I feel at home and calm when I observe the flowing water that has provided for settlements for thousands and thousands of years.

Another fun thing I enjoyed with my parents was the pyramids of Giza. Of course, I love seeing the pyramids, but this time it was special not only because my parents were with me, but also because we got to ride on camels for over an hour. We saw all of the three pyramids, (King Cheops, Khafra, and Menankaure) and take as long as we liked.

Overall, I had a wonderful time with my parents and recommend everyone to try to make it to Egypt and experience the wonder for him or herself.

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THE METRO

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

Hope everyone is well. Lately, I have been gathering my observations on different aspects of Egyptian culture. It should not surprise you that many of the things I will mention next I have encountered on the metro. So it all started when I was on the metro about a week ago and it happened to be the day that I was extremely tired and the metro was extremely crowded. I was able to make it on the metro onto the women’s cart and started stealthy observing the women and what they did. There was this young lady in a “nikab” and she apparently was even more tired than me because before I noticed she was snoozing on my arm while standing. Shortly after a lady stood from her seat and the same lady snoozing on my arm took the opportunity to be seated. I then proceeded to move further in to the cart. An older woman who had been sitting for some time saw that I was carrying my bag full of books and she grabbed my bag from by arms and put it on her lap.  She carried my bag all the way until I got off the train. She wanted to help me however she could. I had seen women do this before but never to me. It was an experience because no one does that on the T in Boston. Another interesting aspect of Egyptians on the metro is that if there is an old lady (like a grandmother) so to speak and a man gets on the train with a small child, she will offer to have the child sit in her lap. This gesture is so that the child can also rest while on the train. Just these two examples show how family oriented, kind, and wonderful the people here are. I know that it is not just because they are Egyptian but also because Islam has a great impact on how people live their lives and instilling in them virtuous traits.

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Classes, Homework, Presentations, and FUN

Time March 16th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As you all know classes started which means being busy with homework and stuff. The usual academic responsibilities. Nevertheless, this does not mean I can’t find time to do other fun things. Actually, in my Egyptology course I had to present on Merimda Ben Salam, El Badari, Dier Tasa, and Naqada I II and III, pottery at the Cairo Museum. I had been to the Cairo Museum twice before, but this time it was a completely different experience for several reasons. First of all I entered through a different entrance than everyone else because I was following prof. Hassan who has special connections at the museum. Through this special entrance I got to see some artifacts that were not out for display. Following the secret passage way, my presentation started. This was even more fun not because it went super well and my professor said I did excellent, but because when I was giving my presentation funny things happened. 1)Tourist at the museum who understood English were gathering around me as if I was a tour guide, 2) Since everyone mistakes me for an Egyptian, people were confused as to why I was speaking English, 3) People were smiling at me after realizing I was giving a presentation for class. As you can see it was a fun experience, even more so because I knew details about Egyptian history that I had no previous knowledge of.

Apart from the museum, I visited Cairo Stadium and watched Al-Ahly play against Talaea El-Gaish (???) which was an experience in itself because of the fans. Also I went to see “My Name is Khan” at City Stars. I recommend everyone to see this film. To say the least there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema. But of course the fun does not stop with the end of the movie, after it finished I got to meet AFROTO one of the players of Al-Ahly I had seen playing at Cairo Stadium.

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Celebration Picture

Time March 1st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

This is one of the pictures of me in the celebration in Cairo.

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Start of classes and the zoo:

Time March 1st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Classes have finally started and so far it seems like it is going to be an exciting semester. Being an international relations and political science major it is nice to be studying something new and different like poetry. All of my professors have been astonished that I decided to take courses not related to my area of specialization. Both Dr. Fadwa and Dr. Younma thought I was a literature major or English major so they were very surprised. Anyways, after explaining my reasons of wanting to end my undergraduate career with something different the general reaction was “we like you because you have guts to try new things!” After hearing this I assumed that students in Egypt generally stay in their area of study all four years of their bachelor’s degree. Apart from poetry classes I have Arabic class which is great because I am eager to learn the language and comprehend everyone when they speak to me. I also have Egyptology which I am really really really excited about because I will learn all of the secrets the ancient history of Egypt holds. Finally, I have Aspects of Islamic Culture which I am going to learn everything dating from the Pre-Islamic era to after the Abbasid (I think this is how it is spelled) era.

Apart from classes I have done other fun stuff like visiting the Giza Zoo. This zoo was crazy in a good sense. I got to see so many different animals but what amazed me the most was that there were zoo keepers at almost every different animal station offering for children and adults to feed the animals. For example you could feed: the elephant peanuts, the pelicans and seals fish, the bears and monkeys fruit, lettuce to the llamas, among many other animals. But wait; of course there are more extraordinary things like when a man approached me and asked if I would like to take a picture with a lion and then proceeded to whip out a brochure with pictures of this little girl sitting on a lion cub. I decided to pass on the opportunity given that even baby lions have sharp teeth and claws.

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Marina

Time February 22nd, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past weekend I headed to small city of Marina (El Alamein), located an hour’s drive outside Alexandria with some friends.

Marina is a coastal resort city that caters to the super wealthy and elite in Egypt…most houses cost (far) over a million Egyptian pounds and are typically occupied for a few months.  Access to Marina is prohibited to the public and one must be a resident or a guest of a resident in order to enter the city. According to our host, Marina is composed of some 20 islands all connected by bridges. Apparently the Bin Laden family owns one of the islands in Marina. In order to purchase a house on said island you must submit a resume and have interviews with one of the Bin Laden’s. It’s apparently a very serious process.

Dr. El Komi’s good friend (our host), Dr. Zain owns a chalet close to the ocean and was kind enough to rent it to 9 of us for a small price. He was amazingly kind throughout the entire trip.

When I arrived, I was struck by how how deserted it was. There was hardly anyone around besides us…the reason being that this time is considered “off season” and “too cold”. However, by our American standards of weather, we could not be happier with +70 degree weather and ocean breeze.

We spent our days lazing on the beach, swimming in the frigid waters, and visiting the near by mall/hotel, Porto Marina, fully equipped with an in-built Venetian-styled canal (with gondolas, of course) and an especially decadent Chili’s restaurant. The last night we went to the beach and lit a small fire all while gazing at the million stars above. We became ancients guessing constellations and tracing our own pictures across the black horizon.

The breathtaking beauty of the Mediterranean and Marina is only enhanced by the desolate and barren land surrounding the city. Gated communities are an amazing thing; this phenomenon seems to have no borders and is a common global characteristic among the rich and elite. One must contemplate the desire to physically segregate living-space from “others” (i.e. a high wall and a guarded gate) based on class differences. It is profound how much a sense of physical distance between one and another can create a sense of security and hetero-distinctiveness.

To me, class lines in Egypt are very distinct and recognized openly. In our Arabic classes we have learned over 12 titles for people based upon what class they appear to belong. For example, we are to address a man with glabiyya (long traditional gown) in one way, while a man wearing western clothes or a suit is to be addressed in another way…and yet another way for a person that has completed the Hajj. The distinctions continue based on the person’s occupation, age, gender etc etc.

Note that I am not suggesting that somehow Egypt’s class distinctions are completely unique or that such things to do not exist in the U.S…we have our own distinct way of denoting class and we inherit social attitudes towards people of different social standings.

The segregated experience in Marina conflicts with another experience I had when Egypt played a soccer match against Algeria (about one month ago). In this instance, sport tied in with nationalism created a sight of unlike anything I had seen before in my life. When Egypt beat Algeria the streets of Cairo were literally on fire. People from all walks of life celebrated the night away in absolute bliss. I ran through the streets in my tweed suit (this celebration was right after I attended the Egyptian Opera) with my doorman (and now friend) Taamir.

The crowd of celebrators grew thusly: first a group of people would start waving flags and chanting certain slogans, then more strangers would come (with percussion instruments like tablas) and continue the chant. Typically after about 20 to 30 people have gathered several people would take aerosol cans and lighters to make home-made flame throwers. At this point traffic would cease as the celebration spilled onto the main streets. In the mean time groups of other celebrators would come and join thus growing the crowd at an exponential rate. Then all of us (several hundred by this point) would run on of the bridges over the Nile in order to join the nucleus of Cairo’s celebration. Literally thousands of people had descended upon one city square, all of them in absolute bliss.

As I observed random people hugging each other (some wearing thobes and others with western clothes etc.), it seemed as though nationalism outweighed many of the class differences that night. However, this nationalism was spurred on by competition against “the other” (in this case Algeria). The tenuous rivalry between Algeria and Egypt goes far beyond sport. The attitudes of Egyptians towards Algerians as a people is highlighted with negative comments referring to their “overly-French” pride and brutish tendencies towards violence. Furthermore, Egyptian  nationalism is directly tied in with Islam! There is no real conflict between “church and state” as there is in the U.S.; Islam and the state can coexist quite nicely (but this subject can be reserved for another day).

I will upload some photos later.

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Interesting Things Observed So Far:

Time February 16th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Riding on the subway, walking down the street, or just sitting at a local café, you get to see many distinctive qualities about a country. So far I have noticed that: 1) sidewalks are for parking instead of walking, 2) divisions in the road are for decoration and not to help direct traffic flow, 3) even if you live 10 minutes away from your destination and are planning to take a taxi you probably should give yourself about half an hour to 45 minutes to ensure you will be on time, 4) the metro is more efficient and dependable than in Boston, 5) it amazing how much you can eat for 5 dollars, 6) people drink tea at all hours, 7) you can actually drink faucet water without getting sick (of course after your “community immunity” kicks in) 8) the chocolate here is AMAZING!!! 9) Mango juice as well, 10) everyone is extremely friendly and helpful when you try to practice Arabic with them, 11) I feel safer walking in Egypt than walking in Boston or New York, 12) there is a ton of people in the city and you do not know what rush hour is until you ride the metro from Sadat station to Dokki, 13) the Nile river is BEAUTIFUL, 14) some women I have spotted who do not wear a hijab have hair styles taken from the 80s, 15) when ordering Turkish coffee make sure you are ordering medium sugar and not “happy coffee” (the difference in the two words is the order of the letters “masboot” (med. Sugar) and “mabsoot” (happy).

All of these aspects and more are what make each and every country unique. That is why I love to keep a small journal with me so that I can jot down every little aspect that I find interesting.

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Orientation (Wish I could do it all over again!)

Time February 3rd, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Orientation is over and I have to start reminding myself that I am on a study abroad and not on vacation. I say this because during orientation apart from going over the technical administrative procedures our orientation also consisted of fun excursions and trips. One of the first big trips was going to Waadi El Natrun in the Western Desert. We had to ride on four wheelers because they are the only vehicle that would not sink in the sand and are safe enough for the adventure. We left at about nine in the morning that day and did not get back until about after 6pm, so we literally stayed an entire day in the desert. The experience was nice, but I don’t think I would do it again unless my family would like to. The day we went was very windy and the combination of wind and sand is not a good one. However, the sites were gorgeous and the open spaces were beautiful. Another exciting trip the group took was to Coptic and Islamic Cairo. During this outing we were toured around different churches, mosques, and one synagogue. They were all so serene and amazing in architecture and design. Each one with a special style pertaining to the century it was built in. Another excursion was, of course, to the pyramids of Giza. It was an all day trip visiting different museums including an open air museum containing an enormous statue of Ramses (I think the Second, if I remember correctly), the Solar Boat museum to the Sphinx and Great Pyramid. We were able to go inside the Great Pyramid, climb all the way to the inner burial chamber and come back down. (Let me tell you, it is a work out!!!) The final big thing the group did was visit Alexandria. We had to drop off 6 members of the Egypt group in Alex so our RD (Dr. Mohamed, who is super cool) decided to make it an event. We stayed to nights in Alex and saw an Italian Symphony at the Opera House and the lovely Citadel. Not to mention before the Opera night we saw Egypt win the African Cup and experienced firsthand how Egyptians celebrate after victory. Overall, the orientation was great I am exhausted but happy and wish I could do it all over again.

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Taken from a Hollywood Film: (A.K.A you had to be there to believe it!)

Time January 22nd, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have been in Egypt now for a week and it is still just as I had remembered it. (More beautiful than ever!!!) Even though the flight in, or should I say flights to get to Cairo seemed like they were taken from a Hollywood film, I made it safe and sound. The first two times I have flown to Egypt everything regarding travel and airports went smoothly. However, this time around being winter and going through London Heathrow Airport (LHR) things changed. Of course, every day I was in Boston I checked the weather channel to make sure and pray that it would not be snowing so that my flight would not be cancelled or delayed. Nevertheless, I overlooked checking LONDON weather. The day I was leaving Logan International Airport my flight was delayed, but I managed to get on the flight that had been delayed since 4pm and we left at 8:45pm. The flight was going great till about 1 hour to landing. The pilot informed the passengers that he had been informed that we couldn’t land in London because the runways were iced over, so we were rerouted to Glassgow, Scotland.  I was not too worried about this set back because I had an 8 hour wait at Heathrow to fly out to Cairo. But once we landed in Scotland, no one had any idea what was going on. This is when the nightmare began!!! Everyone got off the aircraft walked to the gate and entered. We had to go through customs and immigration. We were instructed to form a line or queue as they say. The line was so long and every time you would ask an airport employee none of them knew what was going to happen or what we were supposed to do apart from wait in the enormously long queue. I waited for about an hour in line without moving an inch forward and then to my surprise the fire alarm went off. All of sudden you could hear the loud speakers instructing everyone to leave their luggage wherever it was and exit the building. I grabbed my backpack and left my carry-on and big suitcase (which I forgot to mention we had to claim, so you could picture me at 5’4’’ with this bag that goes up to my waist, at least). Anyway, everyone ran for the exits with their stuff out into the freezing weather. (Thank God I had kept my winter coat with me.) We waited for about 20 minutes, no firemen came or police and we reentered the airport terminal. Formed the line AGAIN!!!! For another hour I made the line made it to the attendants who were taking down your information and putting us on busses to transport us to a local hotel for the night so that we could catch our flight the following morning. I made it on the bus, exhausted from not sleeping on the plane and all of the hustle and bustle of the day and waited for about 40 minutes. I kept on making prayers in my head so that everything would be fine and suddenly an airport attendant stepped on the bus and said that we were the lucky few that were going to make it on the plane to Heathrow that same day. I was so happy I cannot even explain the feeling. I had false hope that I would make my connection in Heathrow to Egypt at 4:55pm. Mind you it was already 1pm. I made it on the flight at about 2:30pm, estimated the hour flight to London and was thinking everything had turned around for me. But of course we had to wait for the plane to be de-iced, and wait for a spot at LHR. So we really took off at about 3:30pm. We landed in LHR at about 4:35pm and I was ready to run. However, once again there was an obstacle. Because I had to claimed my checked luggage in Scotland and it could not be checked all the way to Cairo, I had to claim it again in LHR, go through customs, immigration, and check-in for the third time!!!!! It was pretty much hopeless, but of course being young and hopeful I still thought I would make it. I got off the bus that took us from the plane to the terminal, followed the “connecting flights” signs and asked the first person I saw in uniform what I should do and if my flight to Egypt had left. I was thinking it could be delayed as well, since everything else was. The gentlemen said that if I ran I would make my flight, but I had to get my luggage and check it. I ran to the place where they stamp your passport, showed the guy I had already entered the UK, went through, claimed my luggage (again 3rd time, after waiting 1 hour), and went upstairs to check in. When I got upstairs I asked another agent if I could make my flight and he said I was too late. I had missed it. He told me to go to the man in the blue shirt, who knew what I should do. So I did just that. When I looked at the man in the blue shirt in despair he told me I had to call British Airways and rebook. This was the point where I started to lose my calm. A British Airways attendant (female) saw my face and said “come with me I will help you” so I did. Holding back my tears from exhaustion, despair, and stress I told her which flight I had missed. She took her mobile and called the airline. Since she was an employee she did not have to wait on hold forever. We sat down on a bench and she said I was all set for the next day’s flight to Cairo. The kind lady asked me if I was ok, but when someone asks me if I am ok and I am holding back tears, it’s never a good combination. So I broke down for about 5 seconds. She told me not to worry gave me a kiss on the forehead hugged me and told me she was going to take me to the queue for the hotels. However, she then changed her mind and skipped me in front of all of the people and took me to a very kind man who would book my hotel and give me the voucher. He started asking me questions about my trip and talked about Islam. I felt better. After about 2 hours I made it to the hotel, ate dinner, and slept. The next day I woke up had breakfast, checked out of the hotel and made it to LHR at 1pm. I wanted to make sure I would not miss my flight again. Checked-in in about 15 minutes, passed the security inspection in about 10 minutes and waited. My flight was supposed to board 3:50pm. We boarded at 6:30pm. DELAYED yet again. Once on the plane we waited about 1 hour before the captain started informing us why we were waiting. First it was because there was a line for the deicing process. We were served dinner on the ground, the crew turned on the entertainment for us and we waited. During the 8 hours of waiting inside the aircraft on the ground everything imaginable happened. Not only were we delayed and kept getting pushed back in line to deice. There was a medical emergency on board. Some older man was having medical problems. We found out about this when the captain asked if there was a medical doctor on board (just like in movies). To add to the problems, a plane that was on the runway at LHR about 3 miles away from where we were had a bomb threat so we had to wait till that cleared. Let’s see: medical emergencies, delays, bomb threats, weather issues… everything happened. Nevertheless, we took off at 2:30am London time on January 9, 2010. We landed safe and sound in LHR at around 7:30am. I passed through customs, immigration and got my luggage in record time of about 45minutes. Alhamdullilah the nightmare was over. I could not believe I had made it. After three days of travel.

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The Anticipation

Time January 5th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Everyday seems like an eternity, the anticipation is killing me! I cannot wait to board the plane and head to the lovely country of Egypt. But before I am ready to take the British Airways flight, I need my visa to arrive in the mail. There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not check the front porch for a package from Perry International. I know that once my passport arrives with the visa I will be able to sleep calmer at night knowing I am actually going to be able to fly out on January 6th. Adding to my “to do” list is the need to initiate packing. I think once I bring the suitcase up to my room from the basement, reality will sink in that I will be leaving my home and spending at least the next 6 months of my life in the Middle East.  I feel so blessed to be able to have the experience of studying abroad! One of the things I am looking forward to the most is being immersed in an Arabic speaking country. I am yearning to learn the language and be able to communicate with everyone, understand what all of the signs on the streets say, and comprehend what the newspapers are reporting. I am also eager to be able to read the Qur’an in the official language. Furthermore, on a more taste bud satisfying note, I cannot wait to have maashi (vegetables stuffed with rice), tammiyya (fried spice chickpeas and fava beans), and tahina (sesame sauce) all over again. Although I will be far from home and will miss my family and friends, I know that the experiences I will have are going to enable me to grow even more as a person. To this day, I am still in shock that what the Egyptians told me the first time I visited Egypt came true, “if you drink the Nile, you always come back!”

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Just Two Days Left…

Time January 5th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Enjoying the snow with my brother.

In two days I depart for Egypt and yesterday my parents threw me a “going away” party where all of my closest friends attended. Even though I am excited for my new life ahead of me, yesterday it hit me that I was going to be far away from people I hold dear to my heart and started to get a bit teary eyed. Nevertheless, I have faith in Allah that everyone will be fine while I am gone. I have about 2/3 of my luggage packed and everyday that goes by I think of something else I need to stuff into my suitcase. Surprisingly, I am not nervous about the travels just extremely thrilled to get to Cairo so I can enjoy the warmer weather and not have to shovel snow for a change. One food item I hope to encounter at the market is plantains. Plantains are like potatoes in my culture, so if I can’t find them I think I am going to go through withdrawal. Don’t get me wrong, Egyptian food is delicious!!!

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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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