Tag Archives: Travel

Trouble in the Suez

We spent Friday at the Red Sea, swimming and hanging out at a resort.  We then went to the suez canal in the evening.  I couldn’t believe how intensely blue the water was, especially in contrast with the dessert and mountains that surrounded it.  The sea was warm and pretty calm, with tons of corral and amazing shells everywhere.

red sea

Of course, we are always students, and today was no exception.  In addition to reading our third book, I did some observation for my research, and stealthily took creeper pictures.  In various stores I had already encountered varied bathing suits, but it was interesting to see it in action.  Some women swim in all of their clothing, and many don’t swim at all.  Some wear suits that cover to their wrists and ankles.  In general, there are far more bathing suits available that are modest and almost all of them have a skirt component, which often comes to the knee.

It was comforting to see that the beach is universal.  Kids playing at the beach are always kids at the beach.  They swim, fight, toss a ball around, collect shells and make sandcastles.   Actually, that’s pretty much what we did.

Abduh came with us, which was awesome.  He played volleyball with the guys against a team of Egyptians.  Team USA wiped the floor with them, but it was no Harlangro game.  Had ladies been allowed to play I would’ve shown our guys up (except for Abduh).  Apparently years of soccer training didn’t teach them that it’s best if you keep the ball in-bounds on a serve.

volleyball

On the whole, this was a phenomenal use of a day off.  I got coated in salt, but after a day at the beach (no sunburn!  woohoo) and a 10 pm bedtime, I felt recharged.  Of course, today’s events wore me out again, but what can you do?  We have less than three weeks left, and it’s time to start cramming everything in!

Burnout

We are exhauuuuusted.  Lately there’s been rumblings of mutiny because of it.  So here’s an idea of our workload, because get this, I’m taking classes and being graded over here.

9-1: Arabic, Monday-Thursday

5-7: Tutoring at St. Andrews, Tuesday

8-whenever: Group meeting/class with Ilham, every Tuesday.  It usually goes till like 10:30, 11

every Friday, Saturday & Sunday plus some weekdays: guest lectures, tours, site visits.

Also: we are responsible for writing journal entries several time a week,reading three books and writing a paper on each one while here, as well as a 7-9 page research paper.  Oh and the homework our Arabic teachers assign, not to mention all the memorization and practice our frazzled brains can handle.  The other day one of the leaders asked me if I had been able to explore much yet.  Um, yeah, that’s a no.  We have a total of four free days while we’re here, and most of us spent our only one so far sleeping, reading and doing research.  We’re up at 7 or 8 every day, sometimes earlier on the weekends

Don’t get me wrong, I really love everythng we’re doing, leanring and seeing.  And I honestly can’t think of a beneficial way to lighten our schedule.  I guess we’re just going to have to keep using our version of “i’ll sleep when i’m dead”:  I’ll sleep when i’m in Amrika.  That’s almost the same thing, right?

Things that are Strange Because They’re not

Here’s a list of things that are so normal here I’ve already forgotten that they’re noteworthy.  It’s funny that sometimes the biggest differences fade away because no one else sees them as remarkable, which is perhaps why almost no one mentioned any of this to me before I came.

  • Cats are everywhere.  Consequently, there are no mice or rats
  • Men link arms or hold hands.  this is normal behaviour for straight guys who are friends
  • You can almost always see at least one minaret
  • Everyone rounds when dealing with money
  • There are bidets in every bathroom, even if it’s just a little tube inside the regular toilet that inaccurately shoots water
  • Men with guns are everywhere.  Egypt is I think the most chillax police state in existence.  Mostly, they just want to employ more people so there are soldiers and antiquities/tourism police everywhere
  • People just chilling on the street.  Everybody stands and chats in the street, people sleep on the sidewalks or sit on them for some tea
  • Cars here are nuts.  Triple parking is common, and everything is always bumper to bumper.  Not like our exagerated expression, but legitimately jammed up against each other
  • The smell.  Food is made of different stuff here, so the trash smells different.  Also, their sanitation system is quite different from ours.  The first day or two my nose was in pain from the smell.  I realized the other day that I don’t smell anything.  I don’t Cairo got cleaner.  Also, I bet New York or Boston smells would assail the nose of any Cairene
  • Women are dressed in various interpretations of the hijab.  The range goes from tight, revealing clothing to naquib (face covering), head scarf and long, black, loose-fitting robe.

Basically, things are as different from home as they possibly could be, while still maintaining enough similarities to make my head spin.

Taxi Driver

Step 1: Stand in the street and yell the name of the place you want to go.  If you’re a western tourist, this is probably unnecessary, and means theres a prequel to 1: shake your head le (no) every time a taxi beeps at you, which is constantly

2. Get into the cab.  A male sits in the front seat, no matter what.  If there isn’t one, you probably shouldn’t be going anywhere, but all hop in the back anyway.  Don’t ask how much it costs.

3. Say salaam alaykum and the specific streets/square you want to go to.  Don’t ask how much it costs.

4. Say nothing.  You don’t want them to realize how little Arabic you really know, because then they’ll rip you off.  This is a tip from my Arabic teacher, Khowla.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, ustazza (teacher).

5. When you get there, get everybody out of the cab

6. Pay how much it actually costs (do not ask, simply know in advance) and leave.  No discussion, no hagglement.

“We are living in a music video”

The other night we all went to Sequoia, a trendy restaurant on the Nile.  This is the part of the Nile with pretty painted fences, little garbage and flowing water.  Not trash, dead animals, and children bathing in stagnant muck.  This is the part that’s meant for us to see. The restaurant looks like it was made in Hollywood.  Everything is white, with low couches for seating and flowing canopies everywhere.  The entire place feels like a palace, and waiters are everywhere.  You can’t help but feel important and rich as you pay25 LE (Egyptian pounds, ~$5 american) for a bottle of sakkara and lounge in the breeze, watching a bright orange moon sparkle on the water.

As David said, it’s where you would bring foreigners or potential business partners to show them a good time, and convince them to invest in Cairo.  This is when the discussion of our life as rock stars/club owners started.  It only got more ridiculous/financially infeasible in Luxor.

Luxor looks like how we thought Cairo would. There is desert everywhere, and then a city comes out of nowhere.  The place looks like Tatouine, a comparison we all made immediately but hesitated to share.  Everyone wears traditional clothing, and shops selling all things overpriced and “traditional” are everywhere.  In the hotels there are belly dancers and other cultural activities.  The hotel was amazing, and looked like a palace anyway, but especially compared to the Flamenco here in Zamalek, our island neighborhood in Cairo.

In Luxor, they’re selling the Egypt brand hardcore, and we’re buying.  People constantly offered my friend Taylor camels for myself and the other three girls we were with.  He responds, “there aren’t enough camels in the world!”  Smart boy.  The men who say these things laugh and joke with us.  They aren’t serious or dangerous at all.  They know this is what we think we’ll hear, and like everyone in Luxor, they’re willing to conform to the stereotype for a little baksheesh (tip).  The children who beg in the square wear new, ornate traditional clothing over their jeans and tshirts.  There are bags to catch the poop from the horse-drawn carriages that are everywhere.  Egyptians live on the West Bank (not THAT West Bank) and tourists on the East, and certain restaurants and nightclubs won’t allow natives in, even if they come with Americans.  Everything is very deliberate and for our benefit.

Originally, we all loved Luxor.  We wanted a six week Luxor dialogue, so we could lounge by the pool, sit in the open lobby and enjoy the city.  Then we went into the city.  Not much there.  We saw all the cool old stuff, which took about 10 hours over the course of two days.  We went into the city to explore, the way we did when we first got to Zamalek, and were sorely dissappointed.  The “market” is entirely for tourists.  Everyone sells the same things, all from China, many of which I saw sold in a similar area in Paris.  The sellers all speak english in a variety of accents–Australian, British, Scottish, American.  Everyone calls us pretty or sexy and asks if we’re Egyptian.

The hotel was another experience altogether.  I could have been in Florida for all anyone cared.  The place was gorgeous.  The pool was on a boat floating on the Nile, which the balconies of our rooms looked out onto.  Most of the guests stayed in the hotel for everything.  And why not?  There were several restaurants on the compound, and even shops and an atm built in.  The place was a resort compound designed to keep westerners happy, and for a while it worked.

By now, none of our group likes Luxor.

We have been referring to Luxor as “vacation,” making Zamalek (our neighborhood in Cairo) home. We even miss the Flamenco, with its smaller rooms and wonky elevators.  This is the real benefit of our weekend away.  The group is much closer, and we all appreciate Cairo (and its cooler air) much more.  Oddly enough, when I came back this morning via overnight train, I was comfortabley wearing long pants, a shirt, jacket and scarf.  It appears I’ve actually started getting used to this heat.

Walking Like an Egyptian

Ahlan wa Sahlan!  A warm Egyptian welcome to you!

Yes, I am that lame(see title).  But so is my camel-riding tourguide, who told us that if we ride all the way to Libya via camel, we will in fact walk like egyptians.   After a day of trekking through the Sahara, I believe him.  My legs are still aching!  

Ahh, I kinda can’t believe I’m here!  So we had a crazy flight/journey.  On the way into Frankfurt, we had a couple times where we free fell four 2-3 seconds.  Scariest thing ever.  So needless to say, the entire group of us got pretty close on the flight.  No dying confessions or anything, but we were all seated in groups of 3-6 people from the trip, so it was a good bonding experience.  The layover in Frankfurt was bizarre, since for us it was partytime on Thursday night, and for them it was wicked early on a friday morning.  Weird.  

So we rode camels through the Sahara, went to the Papyrus Museum, have eaten all kinds of crazy things, and FINALLY found tubes.  We always travel in a pack, which is good for safety and the whole bonding experience, but it’s weird to be 20 and not allowed to wander off alone like I normally do.  Start breathing again mom, I’m not going to, it’s just something to get used to.  

Class starts on Monday and I can’t wait!  My ustadtha (teacher)  is really nice, and the class only has 11 people in it.  There’s one for people with no Arabic, another for those with some (me), and a third for those who legit know what they’re doing.  We’ll take classes at the AUC dorms, a short walk from the hotel.  Yes, we will all walk together.  And study together.  And eat together.  If someone wants to kidnap us, they’re going to need a VERY large van.  

We’ve already got homework–I passed in my first paper upon arrival (well, sort of.  she gave us an extension but mine’s already done and sitting in my room).  The I’m reading our next book, and will start the paper once i’m done.  

The hotel is lovely, thank goodness.  Clean, safe, comfy beds, no bedbugs, good shower.  Great Success!

Sorry this is so spastic, coherence will follow.

Leaving on a Jetplane

In a few short hours I’ll be checking in to the international terminal at Logan, then off to Cairo via Frankfurt.  Everyone has been asking what the deal is with various time differences, so I’ll try to break it down.  And yes, at 2 am the night before I go, still unpacked and mildly disheveled, I’m writing this instead of a paper. Let’s not talk about it.

I arrive at Logan at 1pm, because we’re a big group and we’re doing everything on the safe side.

Our plane leaves at 4:30pm local time, to arrive in Frankfort at 5:20am Germantime (11:30 pm in boston).  This is a seven hour flight, and a six hour time difference ahead of Boston. (Remember: East increase, West is less)

I then get to spend almost 5 hours in glorious Frankfurt airport.  At 9:55 Germanytime, aka 3:55 bodyclock/Bostontime, I leave for Cairo.

After a four hour flight I will arrive in Cairo at 2:55pm Egyptian time, which is one hour ahead of Germany, or 7 hours ahead of Boston.  At this point it will be 7:55am on Thursday in Boston and my brain, and I will have spent at least 19 hours en route.

And then I will go ride a camel and see the Great Pyramids, because really, how else could you possibly start a trip to Egypt?