Travel Map

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ah School

Now that school has started I have less to write about...fewer adventures and more time in.  It's still only the end of the second week of classes so I'm still getting a feel for things.  However, I can't help feeling dumb.  I know wherever you are in life there's someone smarter or more cutting edge and you should only compete with yourself bla blah...
I'm excited to start my research although I have no idea how to do it and where to begin.  I suppose I need to work with two agencies mainly but I don't know whom I should speak with and what I exactly want to know.  Well, such is the start of a Masters I guess.  I'm scared because a few people I've talked to seem to think my thesis will have to be twice as long as normal since it will be for two degrees.  That's about 250 pages.  That's a book!  I tried writing a book once, never finished....
I feel slightly renewed in my fervor, however, as it seems an opportunity has presented itself.  It may not pan out but it could be another rewarding experience and something valuable for my cv.  Speaking of, I applied for a winter internship at the World Health Organization.  They say it's really hard to be chosen so I'm not worrying about it.  I figure if they see my name enough they'll eventually pay attention.  (the only issue if I do get chosen is finding funding to pay for it since all expenses are my responsibility but I'll worry about it if it come to that).

I love that every time I leave campus I have a story.  Long story short- wanted to see the pyramids at sunset and get some cool pics. Taxi driver didn't know where the pyramids where.  THE pyramids.  Last remaining wonder of the ancient world PYRAMIDS and he took us to pyramid street.  Oh my.  And everyone neglected to tell us that the pyramids close, that's right, at sunset.  So....we went to Zamalek and had a nice little night out.  Real trip to the pyramids postponed until we make plans and double check that the pyramids will be open.  Still not sure how you close something like that, it's like closing a mountain....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Red Sea is Really Blue

At the end of Ramadan there's a 3 day feast called Eid al Fetr.  We were informed by many other students that no one stays in Cairo and everyone takes advantage of the break for a mini-vacay.  Well, realizing that after this break I will really start grad school I desperately wanted to go somewhere.  On the Sinai there's a town called Dahab that was recommended many times as a beautiful place for diving/snorkeling and just general beach time. roommate and another friend decided, "what the heck, let's go with out anyone's help!"  That's not exactly true, we asked people where the bus station was and the best way to get tickets.
So, middle of the night in Cairo and we are in the up-scale neighborhood of Heliopolis, wandering around the mall and just killing time.  The 11 o'clock bus we had intended to get on was booked so we had to get tickets on the 2 am bus.  Did I mention that the bus ride is about 8 hours from Cairo to Dahab?  So at 1am we take a cab to the bus station and attempt to get tickets.
Now, on a side note, cab rides here are always an adventure.  Sometimes the drivers don't know where to go but they'll pick you up for the fare anyway.  Sometimes they don't have a meter and you get to bargain over the price.  This includes,
"How much?"
"So far over the norm that you'll either be a stupid tourist and say yes or we'll bargain," etc.
Always settle on the fare before you get in. They aren't too agreeable about pulling over after a few blocks.
Back at the station, thank god one of the girls speaks passable Arabic and we were able to figure out where our bus was coming and get on the right one.  We were a little nervous because we were the only women waiting in the station. At 2am.  Slightly conspicuous.

We get on the bus and discover that we don't just sit anywhere but there are assigned seats. Oops.  So we end up in the very front seats which affords us no room for our legs or carry-ons.  Slightly uncomfortable ride....And the drivers were creepy and kept staring at us in their rear-view mirrors and trying to find out if we had husbands or not.  Crank up the iPod and pretend to be asleep....
So Dahab is gorgeous and right on the Red Sea.  Our hostel is so close to the water that when the tide comes in it comes part way up the wall.  Our room was cute and just what we needed.
We had a great time shopping along the waterway that first night and dining on the roof.  I enjoyed some shisha as dessert while the other girls fended off the millions of cats that roam the area looking for scraps.  Day two we waded into the water and got to see a ton of starfish and snails while we felt the rush of the warm water on our legs.  It was nice to be on a beach :)  We also went horse back riding along the water and through a lagoon and I was proud of my girls, they did great.  Especially riding english, which is no easy task when you haven't been many times and the guide had us trotting most of the ride.
We dined under the stars again and got to see the crescent moon and accompanying star that makes me think of some nation's flags.
The next morning we only encountered a small hassle which dealt with the bill at our hostel.  Always get a receipt since cash is the majority currency....
The bus back was a lot less crowded, the seats were nicer, and the trip was faster.  We arrived home tired but content.  At least I did.  Something about the beach always refreshes me.  I had a great time and can't wait for the next big Eid which will be before thanksgiving.  We're planning something big for that one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Desert Wind

Moving to a new city is always challenging.  There's the issue of obtaining basic necessities: food, water, shelter. After those needs are met, there are others that beg to be exercised.  I never expected to feel isolated in a city of 20 million people.  Being in a new "mega city" has its perks (so I'm told): less pollution, noise and otherwise,  less crowding, less trash, etc.  However, I find it lacking in one of the fundamental privileges of living in a city: people.  Since the world changed tactics and left the agrarian life aside humans have adapted to overcrowding and rationing resources.  But in the city there was more life!  More access to one's desires.  The view my window affords me is of a stone wall.  Desert trees break the monotony of tan but bring no sense of life to the view.  The only people I see from my window are the guards employed by the University to see to our safety.  A few of them chat, laugh, drive by on golf carts but the sense of isolation is acute.  
     Many of my fellow adventurers are having difficulties adjusting to the location, I feel like I never left home, it just got hotter.  Here in "little America" we are denied the opportunities that living off-campus would have provided.  I want to experience the city!  I want to be subjected to "noise pollution;" in fact, I can't sleep in stone-silence and have always needed some proof of life in order to feel comfortable enough to sleep.  I think on the tribes of Bedouins existing in desert silence with only a small group as a buffer to the loneliness.  I couldn't do it.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ima Own This

Had my first class, the class that "everyone" dreads: Classical Social Thought, i.e THEORY!!! dun dun dun.....
I actually seem to enjoy the foundations of different disciplines:  ballet, dressage, theory!
I think I would probably be more scared if I hadn't been so prepared.  Every theorist that is listed on the syllabus is familiar to me.  yay!
I'll probably freak out when I add my other classes to the mix and don't have time to expostulate on various social theories but as of right now, i'm heaving a sigh of relief.  My next class is going to stress me out because of transportation and I can barely understand the professor, I have no idea what the class entails.
Should be interesting.
My mantra for the semester:
This is the worst place to do it and I can't afford to get less than an A. goes.  This semester is mine!

Summer is Over

Summer officially ended.  Today is the first day of classes!  I'm excited, a little nervous, but I know I'm well prepared.
I had a fun week- got to go out a couple of times in Zamalek which included a rooftop bar over-looking the Nile. Amazing.  I think that's the neighborhood I want to move to.  It's full of trees and historic buildings and expats so it has a huge international community.  It's hard hanging out with only American students however, or people that are trying to create their homes in Cairo.  Maybe that's why there's so much anxiety in first years- you want Cairo to feel like home but it doesn't.  I'm here to experience something different so i'm trying to take everything as it comes.  It helps that other people are worried and I can put on a brave face to calm them down. Maybe I would be freaking out if everyone else were calm.
I've loved it so far.  yes, the bureaucracy of trying to finalize the financial aspect of school  is annoying but so far I haven't questioned my decision to come here.  I've also had 2 years of mental prep....
I love Arabic.  I'm in that frustrating stage where I remember some things but not enough for it to be useful.  It's fun listening to other people and trying to figure out what they're saying, though.  Arabic is so pretty, even the sounds are curved.
Off to the gym to start this semester with good habits.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Can't Stop Smiling

So I needed a few days to settle in before I started blogging again.  I feel more settled in my dorm room- got a bowl and a plate and some silverware and a few meager groceries.  Finally got my ID card activated to get in and out of my room and the suite.  Spoke to some people in the Anth dept, have yet to hear from the Migration studies dept....going to harass them tomorrow.
So today I decided to head to the downtown campus because I was told that was where MRS was located and I need to discuss my degree program with  them.  I didn't feel comfortable going alone so I went with one of my suite-mates.  We get to the campus after a 40 min bus ride, find someone to ask where the office is located, go up 5 flights of stairs....aaaaaand it turns out the dept has moved to new campus.  Where I live.  Where I just left. Welcome to Egypt.
After that my roomie and I decided to go find real food (sadly the campus food in Egypt is just as bad as the campus food in the US) and I manage to find a restaurant that I walked by the other day.  Go me.  It was a gorgeous restaurant and although the employees were going to break fast soon they let us sit and eat.  It was great Egyptian food- kofta, falafel, tahina, dolma, pita and we were stuffed!  The advantage to the heat is that you don't get hungry so we've been saving money on food ;)  Then we wandered around, went to a few shops, and met my suite-mate's new friend at a coffee shop.  It was a very American coffee shop.  Don't get me wrong, it was tasty but I kinda just left that environment so I was more in the mood for something "local."  The friend showed up in an agitated state because she had just been harassed on her walk over.  Sadly this is a common occurrence on the streets of Cairo, no matter how you're dressed, and it's something women have to be prepared to deal with.
After coffee we went to a roof-top bar that the friend had heard about and we ordered beer.  Heineken.  Still skunky, even in Africa.  Then we got shisha and stared at the boats on the Nile and the high rises all around us.   God, it was such an amazing moment.  I know that later I will get stressed and I may even come to be sick of this place but tonight, at that moment, I had never been so glad that I made the choice to come here.
Shukran, Cairo, for being awesome :)