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Emotionally Charged

Time April 19th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Marhaban!

The best way to describe these last couple of weeks is “emotionally charged.” It has been a rollercoaster of feelings for all different kinds of reasons – depression, passion, wonder, frustration, euphoria, contentment, anger, shock. So much has happened since Easter that it is a mystery to me how I’ve managed to handle it all. I really owe most of it to the incredible friends I have made since being here. Without the constant mutual support between Sarah and Matt and I, these last couple of days, especially, could have easily been overwhelming. Before I begin, I do want to give the two of them a shout-out. Up until I met them at the airport, I had no idea of who I would be spending my 4 months in Egypt with. That was definitely and easily my biggest anxiety. Anything can be made better with amazing people, or vice verse-ly, a tough situation can be made miserable with the wrong type of people. I rolled the dice and thank gosh, luck was on my side. Sarah and Matt have turned out to be the most incredible people, they are passionate and caring and although we differ on many issues, I would do anything to help them. They are those kinds of people that you stay life long friends with. In fact, we’ve already started planning trips together to visit one another once we get back to the States. The people you have these experiences with really make the biggest difference… and I am so grateful and blessed to have shared it with them. They have made my time here fun and enjoyable, especially through those tough times (like when you get sick, when the showers don’t work, when you miss home, when you need a hug, or when tragedy strikes at home). So here’s to you Matt and Sarah, before this trip I worried I would lose friends, but here I am gaining two best friends. :)

I will start with the reasons behind the more exciting and happy feelings that I have had over the last two weeks.  The majority of these feelings occurred while we were enjoying some time away from Alexandria. The first getaway was the weekend following Easter. The entire group met up with Miriam (Roma) and we spent an entire day exploring Cairo together. We headed to Coptic Cairo and then made our way (slowly) across town to Khan Al Khalili. Coptic Cairo is a place that just makes you go “Wow.” Everything there dates back to 14, 15, 16, AD: the gorgeous churches, the breathtaking paintings, the relics, the stone streets, the ancient architectural designs.. some even older than that. The alleyways are narrow and filled with bright tapestries and photographs and trinkets for sale. The churches look as if they belong in Italy. The most astounding part of Cairo for me was walking into the prison cell of St. George. I’m still not sure if he is considered a Catholic Saint or not, but he sure as shootin’ should be. What an incredible story. I highly recommend taking the time to Wikipedia it. It was another heavy, spiritual moment that left me in a slight daze. Adding to the awe and wonder was the display of the torture tools used on St. George… it was unreal. Following that very moving experience we made our way to a much lighter atmosphere in Khan Al Khalili. We spent hours wandering and admiring and looking and smelling. I bought a couple of small things but my most prized find was a tiny little perfume shop that sold perfumes for 1 pound per gram. In other words, I could get a full bottle of exceptional (and rare) Egyptian made perfume for a little more than $2. I bought two bottles. haha. Now I’m going to smell like Lotus flowers and Queens of the Nile when I get back home  :)

St. George's Cathedral

Picture 1 of 26

Cairo was a great, short trip but the next adventure to Sharm Al-Shaik blew every other vacation and experience I’ve had thus far in Egypt out of the water (with the possible exception of climbing Mt. Sinai). It topped riding a camel, seeing the pyramids, the luxurious Nile cruise… it even beat a weekend at the 5 star resort in Ain Sockna. It was exhilarating and relaxing and just plain FUN. The initial intention of Sarah and I escaping Alexandria was to get some sun on the last weekend we would have together (other than the one before finals). So, where better than sunny Sharm Al-Shaik along the Red Sea? While enjoying our time at the beach, however, we were made aware of all the tourist-y activities available. It didn’t take very long to decide that we were gonna do something nuts haha, yet 170 pounds later I have never made a better decision. The three of us were first taken out into the bay on a glass bottom boat so we could see every reef and fish that passed underneath. Then Sarah and I went snorkeling with the same fish and coral. That experience reconfirmed every decision I have made to join the Navy. Despite everything… I love the water. I love the smell of the sea, the misty burn of the wind on my face. What a feeling! Being in the warm water with the perfect sun on my back and looking big eyed at the vibrant colored fish… it was a feeling of pure joy and happiness that I will never forget. I loved every minute of it. :) But, just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, it did. Less than 3 hours later I was on a boat in the middle of the bay stepping into a harness. Next minute I was up over 100 feet in the air, parasailing, soaring and floating in the breeze like a lazy butterfly. Under my feet was nothing but wave upon wave of beautiful, deep sea blue, but to my right and left was the breath-taking spectacle of the sun setting beyond distant Sinai mountains hovering ominously above palm tree covered beaches that seemed to stretch the length of the sky. Just wow. Wow. I’m not sure there’s ever been any other moment that I have felt so free. :)

Where there is happy there is sad (unfortunately) however, and these last two weeks were no different. I have suffered a couple of days of nostalgia for home. Mostly caused by frustration and anger over the small things here. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured by a pep talk from Sarah and a hot shower while blasting Toby Keith, though. It is easy to forget while reading this blog that despite all these wonderful adventures and ah-ha moments, I’m not home. I can’t do all the things I want. I can’t eat what I want. I can’t go for a run after a frustrating day of classes (more on that in a second) or grab a bowl of cereal when I’m hungry. I can’t have bacon at breakfast or wear shorts when its hot. I get charged triple anywhere I go because I’m very obviously white (taxi drivers are especially guilty of this). I haven’t heard country or pop or rock music on the radio in months, I haven’t really heard English in the media in months. I still get the woots and whistles, and approached by hopeful Egyptian men because I’m a highly sought after foreign girl. So many things that recently have clawed the way to the forefront of my mind, and consumed my sole focus for a day or two. This craving for America and for home, as well as the source of MUCH of my recent frustration, also came through recent debates/discussions within my classes. The frustration aspect mostly came from the passion to fix things here in Egypt. I feel it would be almost too easy to just run for office and kick out all the old Mubarak-age bureaucrats. I am frustrated because I wish more Egyptians would feel the same way. Where is the action to follow their words? Someone has to take that passion and get it where it can do some good. Someone needs to challenge Morsi. To put their name on a slate and state their platform. Why no one does is beyond me. Also, many of my classroom lectures in the past have discussed America and I am extremely proud of how objective I have grown, even to the point where I can quite easily see and discuss flaws made by America and the West without emotion. However, with all the other anti-Egypt emotional forces bending and threatening my objective will, I finally couldn’t take it. I more or less snapped. Nothing crazy or anything but rather than swallow the digs against America, I fought back and argued – very passionately too. My lawyer-to-be sister would have been proud. haha.

As I said, the missing home feeling was mostly manageable but what happened on April 15th and even more recently, yesterday, the 17th, shook all my resolve to the core. That was when tragedy struck home and it nearly crippled me. The events of Boston and in West, Texas have had an indescribable effect on my appreciation for America. Being here I have learned to truly appreciate everything I have (as I discussed especially regarding the freedom of religion) but in no way could I have predicted what something like that would do to me. Regarding Boston, not knowing who is responsible (yet) is the only merciful aspect of the entire situation for me. Not knowing who would murder people like that, my people is truly a blessing in disguise. This wasn’t in Baghdad, or Tel Aviv or Beirut or Cairo.. this was in the heart of America. This was in Boston. This was in a town an hour from my home. Boston is my town. When people here ask me what city I’m from in America, I say Boston. Not knowing who would dare to strike at my home has been my only source of relief. Being here and being so helpless… and not knowing the news for what feels like centuries… It was and is beyond angering. Here people went about their daily lives like nothing had changed. I wonder if they have grown so used to explosions and violence and bloodshed that they can no longer mourn the loss of life. If they have become so accustomed to it all that it hardly seems tragic anymore. I know I should pity a person who has gone through so much that would cause those (lack of) feelings but how can I when it was my home this time? Wouldn’t they feel the same if it was their neighbors covered in blood like it was mine? Not sure. But I do know that what happened in Boston on April 15th has me itching to get home and to do something. I am proud to say that I will be a part of the Navy and it will soon be my job to get the guy that did that. A part of me hopes they don’t catch him for a year or so, so I can do the job myself.

So sorry for the wordy entry… This post is very authentic and I hope it wasn’t seen as a complaining rant or a showing off tangent. I wanted to be real. I promised I would be. This is how I’ve been feeling and I wanted to share because it is part of studying abroad, just like it’s a part of life. I hope you enjoyed some of it at least.

Thank you 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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