Along with most of AUC’s students, I’m in the midst of finals. I’ve been holed up in my room studying, occasionally emerging so my friends and I can quiz each other on material. When we need a break from verb charts and Pharaonic timelines, we play with the kittens that live in our dorm. I’m sad to leave, but I will be back next semester. Mostly, I’m going to miss all the people that I’ve become close to. But lots of my friends are staying the year, too. ...continue reading "Ma’Salama, Misr!"
Mumkin is probably the word I hear and say the most. My friends and I use it when we’re discussing homework, dinner plans, travel plans, and politics. It even slips out when I’m Skyping my family. It means “maybe.” People have been saying mumkin even more than usual in the past few weeks, in the wake of Morsi’s new declaration of power. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, and predictions are running rampant. Many people are confident that people will check the president before he takes any more control, or at least that the Muslim Brotherhood will find a solution to the dissent. Others are more pessimistic and see this as a blow to the prospect of Egypt being a “real democracy.”
Following Morsi’s decree, students and professors alike have been a little on edge. For better or worse, our neighborhood is isolated from most of the action. We’ve been following updates on our computers, when the internet connection is working. People’s personal politics differ, of course, but everyone is comparing this situation to the last revolution. Even people who voted for Morsi are outraged by his actions and see it as a power grab that is too reminiscent of Mubarak. I’ve spoken to women who are worried that Egypt’s constitution will not protect them from discrimination. At the same time, Morsi has huge support from the Muslim Brotherhood. Violent clashes have happened between them and the more liberal protesters. ...continue reading "Another Revolution? Mumkin."
After a tough few weeks of school, some friends and I decided to spend Thanksgiving weekend in Dahab, a beach town on the Red Sea. The overnight bus ride there took about ten hours, including security checks. Bleary-eyed, we stumbled off the bus and were told to get into the bed of a waiting pick-up truck, which would take us to our hostel. I’ve reached a point where I don’t even question requests like this, so I grabbed my backpack and hopped in. After the dark bus, the bright sun and strong wind were welcome. The road was just as bumpy as Cairo’s highways, but we were wedged in so tightly that nobody bounced out of the truck. ...continue reading "Black Friday on Mount Sinai"
I am lucky enough to be in Cairo with M.A., my best friend at GW. We’ve helped each other through almost three months in Egypt. But I’ve had to figure lots of things out myself, by experience or by trial and error.
It’s often said that students like to slack off while abroad, but I think being here has made me a better student. I have the responsibility of getting all my work done well and on time. That seems like an obvious statement, but it’s something I’ve had to work on. It’s hard to stay on task when someone’s always going to a party or trying a new restaurant, so sometimes I have to take a pass on fun. But whether it’s through field trips or all the real-life applications of class material, the distinction between school and fun is blurred anyways. I’m very invested in my classes here. Wanting to do well in them- to work as hard as I know my professors are working- is what keeps me focused. It’s worth it when I see a temple and know exactly what pharaoh built it, or when I get to use new vocabulary in conversation. ...continue reading "True Life: Egypt Made Me Grow Up"
I’ve gotten used to thinking of Egypt as a city- a vast, congested sea of humanity. However, there’s much more to the country than Cairo. During the recent Eid al Adha, I traveled to Upper Egypt with my mom, who flew in from Chicago ostensibly to see me but actually to see various dead kings and their monuments. I’m fine with that, incidentally.
A professor told me that the years don’t pass very quickly in Upper Egypt. I understood what this meant as soon as I stepped off the train. If it hadn’t been for the tourists’ fancy cameras and the pop music playing in cafés, we could have traveled back in time. The countryside was lush and peaceful. Buffaloes and donkeys sauntered through the streets, unfazed by the motorcycles. Men sat leisurely outside stores sipping tea and chatting. Teenagers hacked enthusiastically at the bodies of strung-up animals in preparation for eid dinners as bone shards, blood, and bits of meat flew everywhere. We took a three-day cruise, visiting tombs and temples during the day then docking at night in Luxor, Edfu, and Aswan. ...continue reading "Death (and Life) on the Nile"
In between conjugating verbs and raging at the complicated process that is absentee voting, I’ve been excitedly awaiting the U.S. election. Before I left the States, I remember feeling disappointed that I would be out of D.C. at this time. Now that I’m here, though, I don’t mind it at all; being abroad in an election year gives one a unique point of view on the whole thing. Of course, all the American students discuss the election regularly, but we aren’t doing this in a bubble. It doesn’t feel like we’re distant from the discourse that surrounds it, because Egypt is following the debates and the polls closely too. The outcome of this election will have worldwide effects, so it isn’t surprising that people around the world are invested in it. ...continue reading "Experiencing an Election from Abroad"
Before coming to Egypt, I did my research and talked to people about how things operate here. I have therefore avoided most cultural faux pas. I can navigate taxis, mosques, restaurants, and classrooms without any trouble. I’ve learned, however, that it’s not good manners to worry too much. In my experience so far, appearing worried about things that are perceived as “no big deal” just makes you seem uptight and overly anxious- in other words, a killjoy. One should let things happen and not get upset if (and when) they go wrong. ...continue reading "Taking It Easy in Egypt… No, Really."
A favorite weekend pastime of students in Egypt is taking out feluccas on the Nile. Feluccas are small boats with bright lights and floors of varying durability. We walk down the river to the docks, negotiate a price, and have them for a few hours. Besides the river view and the good company, music is the best part of a felucca excursion. Either one of the Americans plugs in their iPod and we sing along to our familiar favorites, or we get an Egyptian playlist. I don’t know quite enough of the songs to sing along, but they’re great to dance to and great for learning Amiyya. The only downside of all this musical immersion is that I can never find out the songs' titles or singers. ...continue reading "I’m On a Boat (On the Nile)"
While I am having an overwhelmingly positive experience in Egypt, things aren’t always easy. Something that is especially hard to deal with is street harassment, which is a huge problem here. Most of the girls here have had to deal with it at some point, regardless of their nationality. No “kind” of woman is singled out. I don’t want to generalize or paint all Egyptian men as disrespectful; most of the guys I have met are lovely. However, this is certainly an issue that needs to be dealt with.
The catcalls and comments are definitely wearing, so I was very excited to see a piece of anti-street harassment graffiti on a wall downtown. It depicts a hijabi in heels, spraying away a crowd of men as though they were troublesome flies. The message reads, “No to harassment.” I am glad that Cairo’s street artists have chosen to deal with this subject, as I think it is one that doesn’t get enough attention. You’re supposed to ignore it, be quiet, pretend you don’t understand, don’t start anything. (As if you’re the one that started it.) So to see a woman, even a two-dimensional one, asserting her right to walk down the street without being bothered was heartening.
Recently, I had the somewhat disturbing epiphany that I have only been homesick in terms of food. Specifically, I miss Trader Joe’s and Thai Place. I am not going to delve into what that says about my psyche in this post, but instead talk about the new foods I have found to enjoy. D.C. food withdrawals are assuaged by the fact that being here is much better for my student budget.
Alex Top is a hole-in-the-wall koshary place on Zamalek. Koshary is a concoction of macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, tomato, and rice. It is served in plastic tubs and staves off hunger for about 48 hours. Hot sauce is provided but must be dispensed carefully; there is a fine line between perfectly spicy and bursting into tears from the pain. This happened to me the first time I bought it and enthusiastically dumped in the whole bag of sauce. Alex offers ruz w laban (rice and milk) as well- a gooey, delicious mixture of sugar and happiness.