Thursday, October 21, 2010

Epic, Catching up on EVERYTHING post!

So, yes, I have been slacking...I realize this, and will do my best to catch everyone up on my doings since August.  I've realized the best way to do this is to copy and paste emails I have written to people, because truthfully the emails sound like blog posts, and then I will be able to do less writing (I have class in half an hour, and don't plan on spending any more time than that writing this...I know I'm a bad blogger!)

Before going to Alexandria in early September, I wrote this lovely email to a friend about the day-to-day happenings in Maadi (the "suburb") that we live in:

I saw it, I grimaced, I almost puked, and then I warned Maddie to look away, and under no circumstances look to her right.  Because, right there, in the street, laying rigor mortis was....a dead doggie :( My heart cried a little...and then I got over it.  It's no surprise that the Egyptians don't like dogs, but they go as far as poisoning them, beating them to death, and doing other horrific things to them that might honestly make me I'm not going to get into that.

In the same email, I also described our problem with bed bugs (the situation has since been rendered, thanks to an extermination session in the apartment, and a mattress cover that my mom sent!):

We have bed bugs.  It's devastating.  Blood sucking bugs which live in your mattress and bite you all over your body at night--IS NOT PLEASANT.  I have all of these itchy bites all over my arms and legs and it is very annoying.  We are going to talk to our land lady about getting new mattresses tomorrow.  I don't really want to have to live the next 3 months with things biting me in my sleep!

So after that we went to Alexandria.  It was SO great to get out of the polluted entity that is Cairo and relax on the beach for a few days.  The city was lovely, and we went for the end of Ramadan, which meant that everyone was traveling, and also that 13-17 year old boys were EVERYWHERE!!! We ate at a delicious fish restaurant, went to the Citadel, saw the Catacombs and then spent a GLORIOUS day laying on the beach, tanning ourselves, and splashing around in the Mediterranean!  That night we decided to hit up the rooftop bar at the Four Seasons to shisha and have an after dinner drink.  I chose Baileys, which was actually a poor choice and I literally got a shot of Baileys with NO ice...they just don't know how to do the "Baileys on the Rocks" please.  This same night, before going to the Four Seasons, Maddie got her butt pinched and I had to run back to the hotel and get her a pair of jeans.  After a day spent on the beach, she thought she could get a way with a below the knee skirt...well maybe in Maadi, but not on the pubescent boy-lined streets of Iskanderia (Alexandria for all you foreigners).  But swiftly enough, this same night Maddie also fell in love with the boy pouring her beer at the Four Seasons--Mohammed.  He was an excellent beer pourer, and even had braces--definitely a plus.  In summary, Alex was great.  But for some reason we yearned to get I guess Cairo is really becoming my home!

After Alexandria we didn't do much traveling for a while.  We soon got in to a routine at school, and it has been pretty boring the past couple of months.  Classes are going well enough, but we are always anxious for the weekends.  One weekend (okay a couple of them now) we were even anxious enough for "Amurrican-ness" to take our kitchen door off its hinges and fashion a beer pong table out of 4 chairs, plates, plastic bags, our coffee table, and said kitchen was glorious.

Again, for some more day to day doings, and the lead-up to our trip to Nuweiba, a beach town on the Sinai, I will reference an email:

Today is my roommate (Maddie's) birthday! She's a baby, like me, and just turned 20...we had some careful reflection moments about how it feels to no longer be a teenager, and decided that it really just feels like you're still 19, but now you can tell people you're 20 and they won't give you the "wow you're such a baby" look.  After that brief time we then decided to begin the countdown to 21...and to Vegas. Um HELLO--way better than 20.

So next week Maddie and I are going to Nuweiba and spending 5 days laying on the beach. That's all we're doing...getting away from the congested city that is Cairo and laying on the beach, getting tan and relaxing for 5 straight days.  

Tonight for Maddie's birthday we are having a good ole Amurrican fiesta.  Through my brilliant engineering skills I have managed to create a nice beer pong table out of 4 chairs, a coffee table and our kitchen door...picture will surely soon be on facebook, because this engineering masterpiece must not go undocumented. Then we are ordering alcohol from Drinkies, the alcohol delivery service where they call me Miss. Emily, and always ask if I want any wine or vodka with my, shukran.

We discovered this place across the street the other day that has 1LE falafel..yeah a falafel for like 17 cents...what what! It's awesome.  They also have this thing I so rightly name a "chip sandwich". Which is literally fresh made potato chips stuffed into a pita, with this sauce they have tahini or something like that, and then they add a dash of salt, and a dash of Egyptian spice mix.  Mmmmm it's delicious!

This next part of the email brings me up to the part about Nuweiba.  Nuweiba was INCREDIBLE!!! We sat on the beach for 3 days straight, and got our tan on!  I am happy to say I came back to Cairo extra-freckly and relaxed from the trip!  We payed 90LE each for the accommodations for the entire trip, which was a lovely hut on the beach--RIGHT ON THE BEACH!!!! We swam in the Red Sea, and peered at Saudia Arabia which was seemingly close enough to touch.  We also went snorkeling (snorkel man finally convinced us) and he DRAGGED...literally dragged us to the coral reef.  I was soon very annoyed with this, and more annoyed that he touched every piece of coral we saw, and tried to make us do the same...he even broke off a piece of coral...HELLO NOT COOL DUDE, NOT COOL.  Snorkel man did not get a tip.  So in summary of Nuweiba, it was another amazing vacation!!! RIGHT after getting back a couple of friends who are studying in Israel for the semester came to visit and stayed with us for 3 days!! It was a lot of fun to see people from DC, in Egypt!! We did all of the touristy stuff, went to the pyramids again etc..and it was all great!  It's great to get out of Cairo sometimes, but Cairo is definitely growing on me.  This is evident in the next excerpt from an email:

So, life in Cairo has been normal.  I am going to pull a HUGE change, and admit that I am starting to enjoy my time here.  I know, I know, shocking!  I think the combination of getting to know a bunch more people, getting into a schedule, and just the normalcy of going back to my apartment at the end of the day, is relaxing.

This is further evident by the dream that I had last night.  I dreamed that I was back in the US and MISSING CAIRO!!! WHOAA. I know this is bound to happen, and it made me appreciate being in Egypt that much more! =D  I'm really excited for my mom and sister to come, and I really don't have a lot of school left (yesssssss :) !!  Pretty soon it will be December, where I will get to see Kelly (YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!) and then I will be headed off to Australia to spend the spring semester there!!! It's been a bit frustrating dealing with Australia things while I am in Egypt, but I'm getting it done!

Okay I'm off to my last class of the week! Have a great weekend everyone! I'm still not making promises about my blog, but maybe I'll try a little more!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My mom wants me to update this more often

This post is mostly for my mother--she may also go under the alias Senora Lynch as she follows my blog.  But to appease her and so I will remember every teensy detail of my time in Cairo, this will be an interestingly detailed blog post.

Cairo: where to start. Loud, crowded, people don't drive well, pedestrians yield to the cars--and if you run the cars start to come faster at you.  Downtown is pretty crappy, garbage on the streets, stray dogs (which get treated like crap because dogs here are comparable to street rats in the US..this fact is sad, because I am a dog lover.  Maddie on the other hand loves cats and stops to meow at each one we pass whilst walking somewhere--she just verified this fact as I asked her if it was okay to include...she even did her best impression by saying "meow meow"; and yes, we are sitting in a restaurant.)  Anyways, back to Cairo.  I love the neighborhood that we live in.  We live in Maadi, which is I guess technically a suburb of Cairo, but it is expat central and more diverse than downtown Cairo.  Most of the people here speak English, and I have been trying to use Arabic, but for some reason it's not high on my priority list to become fluent in my short time here.  I know mom, you're going to kill me--save it, I'll probably regret not trying harder later in life, but right now I just want to finish writing this blog post so I can pee. 

Our apartment isn't the nicest thing on the block but after speaking to many other students, the apartment we have, location, price etc... is an extremely good deal, so we are happy.  We met some students on the first day of orientation who live around the block from us and who are paying 1000EGP more for a smaller apartment...we definitely lucked out.

Back to my first impressions. It's kind of bizarre that I will be studying here until December. This sounds horrible, but after we went to the pyramids I kind of thought--"okay cool, I've been to Egypt, now what--let's move on."  It doesn't feel real, I think this is mostly due to the fact that I have no real schedule as of now, but have to get a bunch of tedious tasks done at AUC and they are EXTREMELY disorganized, which is horrible.  Nothing makes sense either and you get passed around--so you have to be firm and demand an answer.  I'm hoping all of this will get better once classes start.  On an random rant, I would just like to go ahead and say that AU (in Washington DC) is ripping us off, because we are paying tuition for there for a semester, which is wayyyy more than AUC for a semester--yet we still have to pay all of the extra things, such as the very expensive bus pass.  That rant stems from the fact that all of the other students we have met, their institutions are reimbursing them for the bus pass etc...and we don't get that.

Moving on, the AUC campus is gorgeous.  The buildings are modern and new, but it truly is a maze.  I have a feeling I will get lost a lot looking for classes, but will hopefully figure it out soon. The tour didn't help, and it was really too hot to concentrate on anything besides fanning myself, drinking water and trying politely not to laugh at the girl on our tour who fell into the water feature...(there are fountains all around with little canals leading to and from each one...she fell into one of the canals, which is about 8in wide).  After the useless tour we started the check list of tedious tasks--I managed to get my ID--my number was #2138 and they were at #2014 when we started--so yes I waited 2.5 hours to get a horribly sweaty picture taken.  After doing that Zoya and our new friend Emil (who is Canadian--with Egyptian roots, but who's dad is currently on a contract job in Cairo, so his whole family relocated here, and he is finishing his schooling at AUC) went to grab some food with the rest of the student population that was on campus, at the ONLY restaurant that was open.  Why the heck would you start orientation on a Saturday when nothing is open on Saturday anyways...?

I'm kind of sick of writing about my campus experience so I will jump ahead to yesterday evening.  Maddie, Zoya and I went to our hangout "Villa 55" to get some food and smoke some shisha, and it's the only place we currently have internet.  After eating we went back to our apartment and about half an hour later we got a call from Adam, who lives on campus, saying that he and some friends, other AU-ers and some people he met, wanted to know if we (Zoya, Maddie and I) wanted to go to the Cairo Marriott in Zamalek to grab drinks.  After having one of those "when in Rome" moments we decided to try and "cuten" ourselves up and get ready for a night on the town.  We arrived at the hotel about 20 minutes before the boys.  They stopped our taxi at the gate and a drug dog had to sniff around the car.  We aimlessly wandered the hotel pretending we were guests all the while wondering if Adam was going to show up to this ritzy place with gym shorts on.  Luckily he didn't and we met the guys in Harry's Pub, right before last call.  One expensive Heineken later and we moved out to the patio bar "Egyptian Nights" to hookah and drink some more.  After many recommendations from various people I decided to try the local beer Stella (not affiliated with Stella Artois).  It was good, but let me say that the Heineken I had previously was exponentially better as my Stella became air temperature within about 5 minutes.  Drinking 90 degree beer is not tasty.

Someone (I will not name them, nor can I confirm exactly who it was) made the dumb decision to have the waiters "surprise us" with a shisha flavor.  After coming back from the bathroom and the others stumped I bravely tried it only to immediately realize that the mystery flavor was anise, aka black licorice.  It was disgusting, but my fascination and stubbornness with attempting to make smoke rings with wind prevented me from putting it down. (Mom--yes women smoke shisha here--not many Egyptians or rather no Muslim women, except the younger Egyptian women (not Muslim), and not in all shisha places, but at Villa 55 yes, a few will smoke shisha. Though also even though women smoke they will not smoke in public as it is considered impolite.) The night ended well, with all of us in good spirits and we all decided to go back to our apartment.  The boys decided to sleep on the floor--which I'm sure was extremely uncomfortable, but whatever.  The only down side of the night--besides the anise shisha was Adam losing his phone.  Now, sadly, Maddie is the only person on Adam's phone plan...

Maddie and I decided to be bums today, and didn't venture out too much.  We rode the all women's car in the Metro.  Just like it sounds--it's all women.  Nothing too exciting, we didn't meet any new best friends, but didn't worry about having our butts pinched either.  So now I will conclude this blog post with more first impressions and some DEFINITELY un-PC comments about Egypt.

**Coming to Egypt during Ramadan is not fun.  I really never knew that religion could control so much of how a country works.  It is literally integrated in to every facet of this country.  I now envy the people going in the Spring, but also know that this is a once in a life time experience and that in the spring I will be in Australia, and able to understand people when they speak to me.

**The Muslim women who wear all black, head to toe, and only have their eyes showing, or those who cover EVERYTHING, including their eyes and hands...are kind of scary.  This sounds really bad of course, but it's just something I'm not used to.  I'm not scared of them in the sense that they are bad people, but rather I am drawn to staring at them because all I can see are their eyes and they obviously know I am most likely not used to this, and then I feel like I am about to get yelled most of the time, for example on the metro, I'll either look at Maddie, or whoever my travel companion is, or on the ground.  That sounded horrible, but it's the truth--don't judge me too harshly.

**At this hair salon where we've been getting our hair done (for about 4 bucks, complete blow out etc... :) there is this magazine called Identity.  It is an English magazine made here in Cairo.  WOW--feminism has not happened here.  I don't go around saying "oh yeah I'm a feminist etc..." but it is shocking to read that "as women it is our jobs to serve our husbands, and it is a privilege to do so".  Egypt developing--slowly on the women front. 

**Lastly, I'm starting to get creeped out by the "friendliness" of Egyptians.  Again, that sounds bad..but I guess I'm just not used to it.

Sorry to end this post on a downer, but there are my first impressions.  Maddie and I must now go. Adios!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Settling in!

A lot has happened since I last wrote, but nothing too much of consequence.  I guess the biggest news is that we now have an apartment and are beginning to settle in. The saga of finding an apartment goes a little bit like this:

We were able to stay in the hotel until Tuesday...that was as long as our reservation went, and then we would be getting kicked out.  Well, trying to do ANYTHING in a Muslim country during Ramadan is nearly impossible...or rather you have to tack on an extra week to get things done.  The hours are haywire, for example nothing is really open during the day, but rather things open up late at night (after Iftar) and are open until about 2am.  So after getting kicked out of the hotel on Tuesday we stayed with a friend of a friend in her apartment.  Her name is Lauren and she was SUPER accommodating, patient and was very kind about letting us stay with her for a couple of nights.  We ended up staying with her Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

On Wednesday we took Adam out to the AUC campus so he could get settled into the dorms.  The campus is amazingly gorgeous and huge and it is kind of like its own little oasis in the middle of nowhere.  The only problem is that it is in the middle of nowhere and somewhat difficult to get to when the bus isn't running, or if you don't have a car.  Anyways, after dropping Adam off and exploring a tiny corner of the campus, we went back to Maadi (a suburb of Cairo--still really part of Cairo) and met with our realtor to sign the lease for our apartment.  It's a two bedroom apartment that we have conveniently converted into three bedrooms for Maddie, Zoya and myself.  We spent Wednesday night at Laurens again, and on Thursday packed up all of our things, called a taxi--which with all of our stuff they sent a 12 person van/bus, and headed to our apartment.  After dropping things off we headed to Carrefour to buy cleaning supplies and basic apartment necessities.

After 4 hours in Carrefour, which actually turns out to be in this nice mall--with a food court and a bunch of other stores, we headed back to our apartment and began to clean.  I don't know when the last time someone lived in our apartment was, but there was dirt for at least a year ALL OVER.  We cleaned non-stop until 3am and then took showers and hit the hay.

Since we don't have internet in our apartment yet...and we really can't expect anything to get done during Ramadan, we are currently sitting in McDonalds checking mail, writing blog posts, facebook-chatting etc... We start orientation tomorrow, which we wouldn't have known but luckily a lady on campus told us when we went inquiring about student IDs.

Not much else to say! I'll update later!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Giza and the Pyramids--What a day!!!

Welcome to Egypt!  Where to start...last night we got to the hotel around 7pm Cairo time; that's after the easiest customs I've ever dealt with, getting our bags and a crazy ride into the city.  After checking in we decided to wander out of the hotel to find something to eat.  Restaurants were beginning to open (with Ramadan most of the restaurants--besides fast food--are closed for the day and then open after Iftar (the breaking of the fast).  We found a restaurant and decided to give it a go.  Adam, Maddie (two of the other students) and I got the grilled chicken--I know not too adventurous, and Zoya (another student) got the lamb.  It was all amazing!  Simply cooked with great spices and Basmati rice--just what we needed to refill our stomachs.

Let me go back briefly--the plane ride was probably the worst international plane ride I've ever been on.  It was a relatively smooth flight, but it was a smaller plane, the seats were TINY, no foot room, my reading light didn't work, neither did my little TV thing, and the lady next to me moved around so much that whenever I tried to sleep I would get knocked awake.  So with no sleep, horrible airplane food, dinner last night was wonderful.  Enough complaining, I'm just glad we're here! And like I said getting out of the airport etc...was extremely easy!

We were all tired and by the time we got back to our hotel it was around 10:30pm and we all decided to just go to sleep.  This morning (8/21) we decided to "take it easy" and head to the pyramids....

What a first day! So,  we woke up this morning and had breakfast at the hotel (included--thank goodness, so we wouldn't have to go and find a place to eat!)  It was a simple breakfast of fig (fresh fig, which we didn't recognize, but luckily the guy serving us spoke Spanish, so he and I had a brief discussion about the fruit, but I didn't know how to translate the fruit he told me and then he told me he couldn't describe the flavor, but that it was sweet and good...) With the fig we had toast, crepes with honey and coffee. We tried to fill up because we didn't know when the next time we would eat was.

Then we hit the city.  Being adventurous we took the metro--which is amazingly clean and only costs 1EGP (less than 20 cents) each way--to Giza to get to the PYRAMIDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Most of you already know, but I have wanted to go to the pyramids my entire life, so I was extremely excited!  Getting off of the metro at Giza we asked a man where the Taxis were.  He then told us to come and take the bus with him, which ended up us going in a "taxi" with him to a Bedouin camel tourist thing.  Omar, the guys name--well he's only 22, became our new best friend, and he told us he'd get us "the Egyptian price".  We got a pretty fair price (280EGP) for the "medium tour" which was a camel ride to the panoramic view of the 3 large pyramids and 3 of the small pyramids, entrance to the Sphinx and the paying off of any guards necessary (which came in handy when we climbed up on the pyramid and our "guide" payed the guard to walk away...that's how it's done here!!!)

Everything was amazing, but after it was all over, a bajillion pictures later, sore legs, drenched in sweat and extremely tired we did not want to go into the perfume shop our guide was trying to take us in to...So our friend Omar's "best friend" took us back to the metro, and extremely exhausted we made it back to the hotel.  We have about 10 more minutes and then we are hopping back on the metro to go to Omar's house (we're not sure if this is sketchy or not...we'll see) for the Iftar, and to meet his family.  He lives in Giza so it's going to be another hike on the metro...That's really all I have for now, we have free WiFi at the hotel, so I'm sure I'll update more later!

Things I've noticed/learned so far:
--Cairo is HUGE, and smoggy
--The pyramids are just as amazing as I thought they'd be (not sure if it's all sunk in yet!)
--The Sphinx is WAYYYYYYY smaller than we all thought it would be.
--You tip for EVERYTHING--and since we're American we get ripped off
--La, shukran (no, thank you--handy for people selling us stuff)
--Bekum (how much? for when you need to bargain)
--Meshy (okay)
--Ayawa (yes--Egyptian style)
--Tata qkalem inglesee? (do you speak English? sorry none of this is proper phonetics)
--Marhaban (You're welcome/welcome)
--Inshallah (God willing)
--Yullah (Let's go!)
--Lastly, the people are extremely friendly!

That's all for now, I will post pictures later, we're just in a rush because we have to get to Omar's house!

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Week to Go!

In exactly a week I will be flying into Egypt...I'm really anxious and excited, and at this point the nervousness and scaredness of going to the Middle East and studying somewhere where I don't know the language, has subsided.  There is still so much to do, and I am sure I will forget things, but it all seems to be going well!!!  Let the countdown begin!  See everyone in Egypt!