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!