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Culture Shock?

Time January 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, I’m well in the middle of the next part of my life now. I’m no longer in Egypt, I have little time or support for continued Arabic studies, and I’m still figuring out some of the things I learned from Egypt. So, I’d like to take one last opportunity to tell you about some things I didn’t expect upon returning – reverse culture shock.

For a number of reasons, returning to the States after a four-month departure was easier and without the reverse culture shock that I expected. One large part of the transition was the climate. I left Alexandria in the middle of the season they know as winter, as a proper Northern Hemisphere location, and arrived in the Midwest in the middle of winter. The difference was stark: Alex’s winter is full of windy, thunderless downpours and beautiful skies. Iowa: well, if you don’t love the recreational opportunities snow and cold offer, you’ll not be a fan of proper winter. When the family Libbey/Landgraf arrived back in Chicago, we arrived in the middle of the Christmas Cold Snap – there’s not been the proper amount of winter since. While I physically took about three days to adjust to the weather (I wandered around the 70˚F house in a blanket and extra layers), mentally the difference provided a perfect difference to separate my experiences. Other reasons for the easy switch included the change in stress levels, change in tasks, and human surroundings.

The upshot of all this change is that reverse culture shock didn’t express itself in conscious reactions. Only when I didn’t pay attention to details did I experience reverse culture shock. For example, cocktails (minus alcohol) in Egypt cost about LE 18, and on the flight home cocktails were priced at $6. Not paying attention, my mind logged the difference in price as cheaper…whereas in reality $6 is LE 36 – one rather pricey drink! Other moments included smelling a memory in orange juice (I only recognized this by the tiny jolt of disgust upon tasting the juice), accidentally asking three German couples in a row for directions around the Frankfurt airport, assuming they were American, and being surprised upon finding Président cheese in a supermarket (I saw that brand in the hypermarket in Sporting). I was disappointed when Chicagoans foiled my trust in people, fostered by Egypt: I asked an older couple whose entire behavior, reading material, and linguistic style screamed “Midwestern grandparents” to keep an eye on baggage for a minute only to find them apologetically refusing me. Honestly, the largest “shock” factor has been hygiene-related – the first five days I hesitated just so slightly before brushing my teeth…I took three weeks to adjust to the American way of dealing with toilet paper. :)

I’m at risk for completely shutting out my Egypt experience from my daily experience…except not really. In free time over Christmas Break, I read G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque, which kind of turned my memories of a colorful and varied experience into a black and white story. In turn, I sneered in one evaluation when asked to describe the overall impact of four months in less than two paragraphs. As a management intern in a central Iowan museum staying with family friends, I’m reveling in an environment of extremely reduced stress. There’s two cats, a dog, and a Norwegian exchange student at the house, plus the family – they’re a great crew. While I’m currently only utilizing the lessons learned from living in a large city, my Egyptian experience is percolating and has ramifications in my future. And, currently, I have three or four outstanding messages from Egyptian friends on my Facebook. 😀

(For what it’s worth, news is filtering down with worrying signals. A $4.5 billion grant from the IMF to Egypt is at risk of falling through. Currency conversion at the beginning of the semester gave me about LE 6.07 for every US dollar. Today, 1/10/2013, $1=LE 6.54. Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s daring satirist, has been charged for making fun of the president – testing the boundaries of freedom of speech. Egypt’s federal path concerns me.)

Knowing my writing style, I’m impressed if you read even most of those posts. I hope I was partially entertaining and somewhat educational. Enjoy life!


Hope you have a great new year!


Egypt…with Family!

Time January 7th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


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First thing’s first: I’m back in the States. I moved from IFSA housing the day my family arrived in Alexandria, spent three days or so in a hotel, then flew back to the States, into the waiting arms of family in Illinois (عمي + عمتي = عميني؟). Spending a night with those relatives, we drove back to the farm, where another aunt and uncle had already arrived for our Christmas gathering. Over the next three days, more family trickled in until Dec. 30, when everyone began leaving, New Year’s Eve took my brother to his flights home; the next day we visited my grandfather (و زوجته), and Jan 2nd I drove north to Minnesota to spend two days with my best friend. Needless to say, I’ve been welcomed back to America with substantial support from family and to a new house filled with family and food. In time away from family, I realize that my Christmas break was far shorter than I’d assumed – life moves on!

The accompanying video contains material from my stay post-IFSA. My parents, brother (Drew), and maternal grandmother arrived in Egypt on the first Saturday Egypt voted on the Constitution, Dec. 15. Leading up to their arrival, and the vote, US media portrayed Egypt as if all people were involved in demonstrations – on a personal level, I found new graffiti on the Corniche while my family pondered putting a contingency plan (going to Germany instead) in action. Due to stress coming from IFSA to decide whether we needed to leave early, I Skyped my family everyday leading up to their departure, including the day they boarded a plane. Before their arrival in Alexandria, they spent time in Cairo and Luxor. To the despair of their guides, Mom and Drew even snuck peeks around Tahrir Square! (Drew reported there wasn’t much going on, though there were tents. I responded in typical sisterly fashion: “I told you so!”) While they were on a guided tour of the cities, they were afforded different opportunities than I – they saw a banana plantation and alabaster workshop. They also met with an employee of the US Embassy, one whose brother had worked for my parents. (Who says that wasta – connections, واسطة – are only for the Egyptians?!)

Our hotel in Alexandria was in the district known as Ramlh Station. Before I met my family, I turned on a TV for the first time in months to watch news. There was a demonstration that turned violent about three blocks from my hotel – which you couldn’t tell by the demeanor of the people in the street. People throwing rocks, running up on statues to wave flags, police forming and reforming human barriers, even a couple city buses burned. Later that evening, we walked around the area to get to a restaurant for supper, and almost turned down a street filled with demonstrators. While I kept fielding calls from Moutaz and Dr. Mohamed, I felt completely safe walking around, and the hotel’s guards thought nothing of me going out. This was an experience new to my family, and they were very surprised that this set of circumstances was the reality of what I’d explained to them – the real picture of Egypt, not the sensationalized media. Dr.s Heba and Naglaa in Politics and Social Media class had impressed us with the effect media has: misconstruing ground reality as completely conflict-filled; visiting Alexandria brought this realization to my family. (Today, seeing my grandfather, he had the same realization as well!)

While the family was in Alex, we trammed a lot – to Montaza Palace, the Bibliotheca (twice, as I dropped off my phone for the next semester of IFSA students), and to Ft. Qaitbey. We also visited the restaurant Bamboo (where friends took me out for my birthday), the Alexandria National Museum, a tasty schwerma shop, the used bookseller strip, several fruit juice vendors, and many Alexandrian mosaics (I’ve been taking their beauty for granted), and met Brannon, his girlfriend Sarah, and Radwa for supper. I had to adjust to bargaining for two taxis while trying to hustle family away from harassment inherent in being non-Egyptian. I also had to adjust to the fact that, while I had no classes, I wasn’t in charge of my free time; the family’s priorities were my priorities, and I had to give up slacklining with Brannon and Sarah one last time. Also, I adjusted to moseying with my grandmother and parents, who didn’t have the physical endurance to walk at my normal pace, an endurance built from living in Egypt for four months. Honestly, though, while we didn’t walk around Manshiya or visit an ahwa in the evening, I really enjoyed sleeping on the same schedule as my exhausted family.

I admit, I was excited to have family around – these are people who are completely willing to engage in deeper conversations I’ve been missing, who are completely agreeable, trusting, and supportive, reciprocating care and communicating in ways I completely understand and to which I instinctively react. Also, having family in Egypt signaled the end of my sojourn here, an end I am and am not sorry to see. (The food and welcome from every family member was probably the most perfect way of welcoming me back to the States.) Part of my personal release around family meant I could complain more than I’ve allowed myself – I found myself presenting a skeptical and cynical and jaded version of my experience to the people most deserving of the truth. For example, I found myself condemning the street treatment of single women more viciously than I ever minded being catcalled.

All in all, as fun as it was to show off my very small achievements: two friends, a tiny Arabic, a touch of knowledge of the “system,” I wasn’t totally comfortable. (Examples of working the system: I got Drew, who is a full-time engineer, into Ft. Qaitbey under a student ticket. Later, I got the whole family into the Bibliotheca as students. Bureaucracy only exists, as far as I’m concerned, for people to use it to their advantage – can you tell I’m not a fan of bureaucracy?) I was suddenly a tourist in a city in which I’ve lived, yet I still thought of myself as a resident – the two are treated by Egyptians, including Alexandrians, in very different ways. Immediately I began losing the Arabic I’d worked to gain, as I conversed, thought, and was intellectually stimulated in the English of my home. And the people around me frequently made Orientalist statements that were difficult for me to unpack and de-Orientalize. The city I’d worked to partially understand in the face of roommate drama and time and safety restrictions slipped away like a disappointed vendor. I don’t know that I have better words than these to explain.


A Week of Endings and Beginnings

Time December 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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Last weekend Ben, Brannon, and I were reacting extremely negatively to the safety measures implemented for our safety. This weekend I am bidding these two goodbye, along with everyone else I’ve met in Egypt, and bidding my family hello! In the intermediate time, we went slacklining like crazy (Brannon worked on backflips and I landed my first spectacular face plant), I got frustrated at a young man (what’s new there?), Brannon and I went bouldering (FINALLY!!!), we went to an incredibly expensive Lebanese restaurant, we attended a party, I laughed a lot, and I gave and received a ton of hugs.

Safety considerations included the first round of voting on a draft of the Constitution that will pass, against many people’s better judgment. Half the country voted last Saturday, with the other half voting this coming Saturday. We got the low-down from Radwa, who spent most of Sunday filing violations. According to her activist group, this split election could most definitely be considered fraudulent. According to the Muslim Brotherhood website, the election is most definitely legitimate – how dare you citizens question that! Not only do I trust Radwa over the Muslim Brotherhood, I agree with our politics professors that the Brotherhood patronizes, even insults, the intelligence of the average Egyptian.

I found out that insulting my intelligence is a sure-fire way to rile me up on Tuesday after class. Brannon and I went slacklining again, having nothing else to do, and set up two lines in our original location. A man about university age, named Muhammad Azizi, approached us looking for recommendations for English universities. Um, I’m not British – I’m American, even though we are in the British Gardens. After repeated assurances I knew nothing of British univeristies, he wanted to take us to dinner. Next he wanted to go for coffee. He tried slacklining a couple times; but he stuck around long after decency dictates departure in the face of refusals. I spoke Arabic to him the entire time, but I couldn’t get him to believe that I understood what he was asking and still would refuse him. Brannon employed a very successful ignoring policy, which landed me with dealing with Muhammad. He was frustrating.

I finally turned in my second, and final, final paper. This one was for Radwa, and later I was disappointed that we hadn’t time to properly discuss our papers with her. All three of us continue to wait for comments. Sunday my ECA prof, Emad, interviewed (in Arabic) me for 10 minutes and expressed his joy at having me in class. I really enjoyed Emad’s class. (The clips in the video of Marco, Carolina, and I playing with my bouncy ball in our ECA classroom come from us wasting time between interviews and MSA.) Also Sunday, we took our 2 hour MSA final. That seriously sucked – I had to leave a couple questions in the listening section blank as I didn’t have the appropriate vocabulary. I appreciated the skills Zehad forced us to use, but I didn’t appreciate the test. Zehad was extremely gracious and gave me a nice grade – thanks!! Later on Sunday we recorded a skit in ECA for Emad, which Brannon stayed up til 4 am to edit – thanks so much!!! Monday we miscommunicated with Dr. Naglaa and ended up having 1.5 classes with Radwa. Tuesday was a day filled with evaluations. Wednesday Radwa invited an American Muslim from another program, Flagship, to answer questions. That was fun, and that was the end of our classes.

For the end of the semester (and the end of IFSA’s program), we have to vacate IFSA housing by tomorrow at 10 am. I’m the last to leave – Ben left today to catch the 3 pm train to Cairo and Brannon caught the 8:15 am train to Cairo to pick up Sarah. Both have been very excited – Brannon’s showed it more obviously! Instead of our weekly meeting with Dr. Mohamed and as a surprise dinner, he took us out to eat (beginning at 10 pm) at a new Lebanese restaurant down the street. In my blog on construction, I mentioned I’ve watched the renovation of a villa en route to school – about two blocks from the apartments. Turns out that villa’s actually a restaurant: Leila from Lebanon. It’s very upscale, and the number of cars has significantly increased since it opened a couple weeks ago. That supper was very fun and full of very good, Lebanese food, topped by incredible desserts that I’ve not had since Jordan, but even better than what I had in Jordan. Yum!

Also, TAFL Center (in charge of our classes) threw a party at an old, sumptuously decorated house-building. I love the fact that so many places in Alexandria have deceptively bare/old/crumbling facades that open to luxury. Honestly, IFSA students weren’t dressed to the same standards as the others, but the other students exhibited a range of formality, so we fit in perfectly. We got certificates, ate great food (I wish I’d been hungrier), laughed at Rina’s nose and the clown mask Brannon wore, greeted other students from our classes and our professors, enthusiastically laughed and clapped and booed at a play (in MSA!) put on by Zehad and students, talked briefly with TAFL’s director (she’s a power in of herself!) and took a ton of pictures before hugging all our professors and language partners farewell. So far, I regret to report no pictures have made it to Facebook tagging me…

At the party, Dina (my language partner) impressed upon me the importance of continuing to use Arabic. (She also wanted my blog posts shorter – a refrain I hear from many places, including from my father. I like to develop thoughts – sorry.) Emad has offered to Skype with us to help us use Arabic. The opportunities going forward are numerous, including summer programs. I love Arabic (and Islam), more than expected, and was astonished at my internal impulse to continue with it – the knowledge that the language unlocks a huge corpus of literature is a huge lure – but Luther College doesn’t support Arabic. It’ll be one of my jobs next semester to find myself a niche of supporting my Arabic studies (and another niche for continued research into the rationale of Islamic scholars) – and I have a hunch or two where to start!

Oh – I have three updates. A) Tomorrow, I pick up my family from the train station in Alex. They’ve been traveling in Egypt without me for some days; they’re finishing a two-day stint in Luxor right now! B) My arthritis is gone… C) For all my videos in Egypt, my YouTube channel is “Jess Landgraf.” Check it out!


Not Egypt Post – Compost!

Time December 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve grown up around decomposing things: there’s a wood across the road from the farm, let alone the 3-6 large compost piles on the farm itself. So, when I realized the amount of food waste that would go straight to the trash, I set up my own compost. I figured that at the end of 4 months, I’d be able to have some humus perfect for invigorating the tiny woody plant that sits on the balcony, and I’d deal with the rest of the rotting waste at the end of the program. So, I set up an empty water bottle box with a lining of several plastic bags (that’s one way to reuse plastic, right?) on the balcony, and encouraged vegetable, fruit, and grain scraps into the box for all but the last week.

I encountered some issues in setting up a compost:

1. Moutaz had apparently noticed it on the balcony, but decided not to ask me about the large “trash bin.” Mariam, on the other hand, confronted me about trash etiquette one day immediately upon my arrival from school. “You know, Egyptians throw trash into the garbage. They don’t leave it on the balcony,” she said. I think the situation was humorous in hindsight, but I got frustrated that my wonderful idea of a compost pile was considered “trash”! Anyways, I reassured her that it was compost, not trash, that I was fully aware of Egyptian trash customs (pretty much exactly the same as your average city-dwelling American), and that I would deal with the box when the time came.

2. Later, I found non-compostable items in the box, and eventually put up a sign at the balcony door requesting that no bones, grease, oil, fats, skins, restaurant food, etc. enter my compost pile.

3. I also found out that pouring nasty-tasting orange juice on the pile wasn’t a good solution – that got all over the balcony until the Oct. 6th rain. :)

The contents of my compost pile before I dismantled it.

Well, the time to clean up the pile came today: tomorrow I leave the apartments. I waited until Mariam was out and rain quit for a bit, so that she wouldn’t be disgusted by the odors floating from the pile. I found that there was some useful humus – I mixed what I could grab with the spoon in with the hardened soil around the base of the woody plant, and found out that I would more bags than originally planned. Turns out the pile was good at retaining moisture, especially around, between, and below the bag-liners (partially, I’m sure, because Alexandria’s weather has been incredibly rainy overnight). So much water was retained that the box bottom disintegrated and the central layer of compost was  almost literally dripping. I spooned all remaining rotting food into the new box, set the closed box in the trash stairway, and stuffed the old box in pieces with the bag liners into two bags, layered for protection. What I could scrape of the spilled food from the balcony linoleum went into a second pair of layered bags, and after rain quits, I’ll go out and sweep more on the balcony.

Sorting through the pile…

 After I realized the old box had separated from its bottom layer…

It’s done! And you can see all of my footprints. Ha.

I learned with this experiment: I really need more than 4 months to allow proper decomposition. I also need to stir my pile at least once, to make the water more evenly distributed – the edges were very moldy and dry. Banana peels almost immediately disintegrated, but grape stems from September and early October were still visible. Pomegranate peels (the last ones I had were a couple weeks ago, as their season has more or less ended) didn’t break down easily. Bread didn’t break down either, and individual seeds and grains appeared indestructible. But the fact remains that it worked. I saved a few bits of food from trash, provided my material with an environment conducive to heating up (the first stirs released small puffs of steam, a good sign) and decomposing organic material.


Water Water Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Spare

Time December 17th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

A couple posts ago I re-mentioned a bunch of questions I’d leveled at myself prior to flying over here. Actually, I had those questions prior to fully thinking through what I’d need to pack. One of those questions had to do with water. At the time of questioning, I was coming off of nearly 5 weeks at camp, where I guide canoe trips, down rivers. Water is not only an essential part of what I ensure my kids intake, it is the road upon which we travel, and a daily part of how I enjoyed beauty. My college, Luther College, has dedicated itself to sustainability and to that end my first two years featured a cross-campus dorm challenge to see which dorm can reduce both electricity and water usage in one month a year. Both years my dorm didn’t win, and last year my dorm (Miller) was nearly last – only because we were reducing prior to that month! The third reason I was conscious of my water use was my week in Jordan in January, where I saw signs at hotels reminding visitors that Jordan is a desert country.

 Alexandria on a recent rainy day.

Egypt is a desert country as well; one thing I read estimated that up to 97% of the nation is desert. I’m not sure about that accuracy…whatever. Anyway, me being me, I was slightly surprised when, during orientation, the woman IFSA brought in to show us how to make koshary corrected my method of washing dishes. She wanted me to leave the water running the entire time! On the note of washing dishes, I grew up with no dishwasher, and I don’t trust the dishwashers in the dorms in which I’ve lived. Also being a guide, I wash dishes. I am surprised at the effort involved when I cook supper and the guys wash our dishes for me; they also leave the water running. Leaving the water running, whether for brushing teeth, washing hands or dishes, or even the parts of showers when you’re lathering up, uses unnecessary amounts of water, and I’m surprised mainly at the strength of my negative reaction!

Strange as it seems, my shower doesn’t have a tub faucet, and the depression is just about as wide as I am.

The other thing – I didn’t realize this would irk me either, but I remember thinking that using hot water in September, October, and even most of November was really wasting the energy necessary to heat the water. For the first months, all I wanted in water was something to cool me off. I’d hear showers run, and later hear reports of someone getting burned on the exposed hot water pipes, which suggests to me that the hot water was running. I honestly don’t feel comfortable leaving water running the whole time while taking showers – it’s better for me if I shut off water between rinses.

My glorious and well-used hotpot.

I found my answer as to how conservation-minded are the Egyptians I live with and if I could shuck American use of water. I use less excess water than the Egyptians around me, and have in comparison less of an American use of water. As for recreation and personal space around water…I’ve found that more or less impossible except at Ain Sokhna and Siwa. Our morning taxi ride, requested to go via the Corniche every morning, only sometimes takes us by the sea. While I thrill to living by the sea, beyond weather and those taxi rides, the Mediterranean is not a part of my life. Except for the couple times the guys have gone swimming with me (laps are kind of frowned upon in a public beach, which probably is closed now), I’ve not entered that water (see pollution post on why). At one point I found a neat spot destined for me to read alone by the sea, although with background noise of the Corniche, but the second time I visited, some guy tried charging me 6 LE. I wouldn’t have it, and ended up winning my first argument in Arabic when he insisted on following me a quarter mile down the Corniche. Truly, I’m looking forward to returning to my river on campus (it’ll be too cold to swim until May at least) and camp come summer.

My last full box of water.

As for intaking water, I really dislike having to drink bottled water. As weather turned cool enough for me to retain pants inside the apartment, I turned to boiling water for tea, drinking up to 6 cups of tea a day (that’s two tea bags). I estimated to a friend on Skype at that point that I’d drunk 76 cups of tea in about three weeks…I know that number has increased significantly since starting research on my papers. Thanks to being a guide, I know that the instant your water boils, it’s sterilized. I really dislike the amount of plastic I currently go through, both in plastic bags and in plastic bottles.


Photo of table, and attendent water and homework, taken a day before Jeanette left.

Update: I forgot to mention this in the evening entertainment post, but often, and only after dark, somewhere in the city the night will light up with fireworks. We were surprised at the number of fireworks that would go off in one night, let alone the fact that these pyrotechnic events are inside a rather crowded cityscape. Moutaz told us that each set of fireworks (usually 4-8 at once) is a wedding. Well, the first month we were here, up to 4 nights a week would feature up to 3 weddings. While that’s petered off since, I’ve noticed kind of a resurgence of wedding-inspired fireworks. It seems that now about two nights a week have one or two weddings. But still, that’s a lot of weddings!

Brannon, slacklining like normal, began doing a new trick. Attempting this new trick – he gets to tell people about it – accidently catapulted him into a very spiky bush with some velocity in both x and y directions. When he emerged, he had spikes, thorns with a small, almost barblike end, poking out of hands, wrists, and legs. Again, thanks to being a guide, I had the first aid materials with me to save him a trip to a local pharmacy like our Egyptian friends directed him. I chopped vegetables for supper with Ben and Brannon (based off of food from Siwa) while he sat in my kitchen, clipping away bits of flesh until he could grab the end of a 2 mm spike that had broken off at least 0.5 mm inside the base of his thumb. Thankfully, he is sore in many places, but he is not infected and is healing.

Also, the title comes from an ad I remember for PBS Kids (I watched Arthur, Wishbone, Recess, and Redwall) from early elementary school. The ad was a sing-song voice reciting a poem accompanied by drawings that may have been with crayon.

“Water water everywhere/and not a drop to spare./Water in the ground/water in the air./Though it may evaporate/it never goes away:/Snows on to your mountaintops/flows into my bays!/Animals need water/people need it too./Keep it clean for me,/and I’ll keep it clean for you.”


The Odd Events of Life…

Time December 14th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As this semester begins to wind to the end (and, trust me, I know), I thought I’d share some of the more stupid/silly/ironic things that have happened to my person that I’ve not shared. I hope you enjoy!

While staying in Cairo over orientation, I was entranced with our balcony. I didn’t yet have it in my head that pretty much everyone has a balcony, so I went out to enjoy it. Being a sustainably-minded person and knowing the air conditioning was running in the apartment, I shut the door behind me, as I’d gone out to read and take some pictures before we had to be at the IFSA office for more orientation. I finished my time outside, and realized the door couldn’t open from the outside. I’d locked myself out. I hadn’t brought my phone, either. After looking around at my options – do I climb to that open window at least three feet away across smoothly vertical concrete? Do I attempt to climb down a floor? Can I reach the next floor up? I ended up pounding on the balcony door and yelling for Jeanette to wake up for the next 15 minutes. As this was the second time in as many weeks that I’d locked myself out from a porch door, I needless to say was amused.

By mid-October, I’d realized that my method of brushing my teeth and cleaning my retainer, with sparing amounts of bottled water, was leaving light deposits of some mineral-like material. So, in attempts to clean my retainer (which is one of those supposed-to-be-invisible plastic shells), I scraped off as much as I could with a fingernail or Q-tip. One day, however, while I was scraping the new mineral deposit off the inside of a molar, my retainer just snapped. What?! So, I now have two sides to my retainer: one piece covers about three teeth, the other piece the rest of my jaw.

Sometime in early November, I was cooking myself breakfast. By this time, my breakfast pattern had changed to oatmeal, fruit, yogurt, and granola. The first time I had a big bag of oats, I used them sparingly enough that perhaps 10 days after purchase I still had some in the bag. I noticed there was some movement in the bag, but didn’t think anything of it until I opened the bag and out crawled a couple of small bugs. Yuck. Searching a little through the oats, though, I found nothing, so I cooked my normal amount of oats. Later, though, I found at least one boiled bug among my oatmeal, and I think I crunched on at least one other. I made myself continue eating, so I have now eaten bugs from my grains. :)


Personal update: My arthritis has unsurprisingly continued, but it’s strangely low-level this round. I’ll live with that! Also, as I look to the end of the semester, I’m facing the uphill task of cleaning my apartment alone, as once more I’m at the center of interpersonal drama. (It’s a rather big apartment to clean alone.) One significant complicating factor in cleaning my apartment is the amount of finals we smashed into two weeks…or supposedly. Due to political pressures, most of my teachers were requested to move our finals up a week. So, with a two-day notice, our 10-14 page Politics paper was due a week early, and our ECA class had to reduce class to no final. My MSA teacher was distraught at the news, so our final is Sunday (he couldn’t stomach giving us a surprise 2 hour final). Thankfully my ICH paper (6000 words = 20 some pages) is still due tomorrow, but I’ve had to put that nearly at the end of the list with Politics and ECA taking priority. Once I’m fully done with homeworks and the drama of figuring out how and when I leave the country, I’ll be able to begin searching through this experience and highlighting what I’ve really learned. Right now, back to paper writing.


Are Evenings Boring?

Time December 13th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

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Notes about the video: Moutaz was very casually dressed when we started doing tongue twisters, and when I started recording, he asked to be not shown. Now, my current software skills don’t stretch to blurring someone out, so I hopefully respected his wishes by pretty much blacking out the image. Anyways, the audio is what’s important in those clips. The day I recorded the game of Slaps – four games in about 45 minutes – we cracked our playing table. Brannon especially was feeling rambunctious, Moutaz worried about disturbing our neighbors, and when Jeanette came down, the guys all thought she was a disgruntled neighbor. Ahh life in the Apartments!


Throughout my time in Egypt, I’ve had nearly every evening free. My previous four semesters have consistently had me out of my dorm up to 6 nights a week, for professional performances, student or faculty recitals, lectures, inter-building games, cross-campus games, recreational sports games, club meetings, dance club practice (for the three semesters I participated in Ballroom/Swing Club), floor meetings, floor parties, Free Movie Night downtown (which has apparently been disbanded this semester!), dinners off campus, church services, or any combinations of those. I’m used to being so busy that I have to squeeze in homework around socializing, or socializing around homework, and I have to micromanage my days. My friends are the same way, and this semester it’s been really weird communicating with them, still in the midst of that hubbub, and I have a ton of free time. I didn’t know what to do with myself!

So this semester, since I don’t work (that would take time away from homeworking in the middle of the day, but I enjoy my job!), and until this last week and half the homework’s been rather light, I have learned how to procrastinate. I’ve been incredibly on top of my YouTube submissions, writing letters back home, emailing parents, friends, relatives, dreaming about other places around which to travel, and reading. I have read more books this semester outside of class than any other college semester. I should have brought more books from home; normally the books I have around me get stuck on a shelf until I pack them up to go home.

So, outside of homework, cooking and cleaning (I’m really obsessed with having clean public spaces in this apartment), and small hints of boredom, I’ve found answers. One large solution has been going out to the district Mahatat Raml with my language partner, Dina. Not only has she helped me learn and utilize new vocabulary and is a significant reason I can coherently string together sentences, she’s taught me a lot about the city. She’s a history buff, and has told me stories (in Arabic, mind you) about Alexandria’s gloriously cosmopolitan bygone years in vivid enough terms that I too wish I could have lived in the years when gentlemen wore tarbushes (you in the States know them as the fez that Salah wore in Indiana Jones). She’s also taught me a lot about the highlights of modern Alexandria – city life just flourishes in Mahatat Raml, as people hawk wares to the teems of Egyptians out for the night. Restaurants are everywhere, as people mingle over food, always conversing in fast Arabic. Dina showed me the Opera House, where I wish I could return, and is keyed into a lot of the social networks that have really clicked with me. She’s always right – I should get out more.

However, my favorite place to visit in the evenings is also the gathering spot for many of the demonstrations that have shut down the Corniche and/or other main thoroughfares. I have not been back to Mahatat Raml since the 22nd, when a group of friends took me out to dinner for my birthday. The 22nd is also, ironically, the day Morsi declared himself, in effect, a dictator. While he’s stepped back from that position, he’s still pushing for the vote on the Constitution on Saturday. IFSA and TAFL, my two acronyms that are in charge of my stay here, have unilaterally kept us away from the Corniche on protest days. So, while I’ve spent most of the last week to 10 days doing lots of homework (researching and writing final papers – this is a break from writing my second and last paper), I’ve been strongly encouraged to remain in and around my apartment.

Another strong line of evening entertainment has been cards. This entire semester Moutaz and Brannon have been challenging each other for title of champion of Slaps, also known to me as Egyptian Rattisker, Egyptian Rat Screw, and Egyptian Rat Sphinx. Beats me why there’s so many variations on the name. Anyway, originally we all got into the games, and have even got Mariam playing. Jeanette kind of backed off when she broke her finger, and Ben will participate about half the time now – he pays a lot more attention to news than we do. In the last month, rare is the night that we don’t play. Lately, we’ve attempted to broaden our game repertoire with games like Indian poker (we spent more time arguing about rules of betting than actually playing) and Doubt/Bluffing Game/BS/Shakak (Arabic name for it). I even brought out cards and challenged Brannon to Slaps between classes at TAFL on Sunday, which was way fun.

Honestly, while I maybe would have preferred accessing social clubs and outings like I tap into at Luther, I’ve used my experience to learn. I’ve learned about social contacts in Egyptian society, about safety measures and traffic patterns around demonstrations, city life in Alexandria, exciting places within large cities, and creating fun out of enclosed situations and a small number of people. Remember, this is also my first prolonged experience in a city with over 10,000 people, including the student population. Had I known this is what life Fall 2012 would be like, I don’t know that I would’ve signed up. Yet, stepping into that ambiguity has been kind of an interesting journey, and one I shall learn from down the road. Now, as I demonstrate my capacity to procrastinate, I’m going to go work on a paper.


Notes of updates: finals, including tests and papers, were moved up a week suddenly. TAFL made this decision to ensure we are awarded appropriate grades (and “gain our degrees” as the translation goes) for our semester’s work, even if the country’s really fluid situation requires us to evacuate. I’m not super worried about evacuation, but the potential for that action has hovered over us in the last five days.

My arthritis returned in the last three days, this time centering on my left elbow and left knee. Alexandria’s been really windy and rainy in that time period, so maybe the change in weather’s really put my joints to the test.


A Siwi Date

Time December 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

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Well, I went back to Siwa. Woot! And this time, I took Ben and Brannon with me! We met Brannon’s friend Kevin (first met in Brannon’s post about Dahab) in Siwa, as Kevin’s from Cairo, and subsequently had a blast. We rocketed out to the desert, climbed a couple mountains, saw the world’s oldest footprints (again), swam (in chilly salt water, luxuriously warm iron and sulfur water, and ridiculously cold fresh water), slacklined, ate incredible food, bounced around on dunes, saw a meteorite (!), saw new fossil spots, sandboarded the freaking largest sand dune ever (and had to walk up it too), and ended the day at a desert camp. Ben wasn’t feeling tops, so Brannon and I introduced Kevin to our evening staple of the card game Egyptian Rattisker (also known as Slaps among IFSA), played on what Kevin called “baladi tables.” After a scrumptious supper of chicken, salad, rice, and soup (kind of reminiscent of Jordanian food, but spicer), we sat around a palm-leaf fire and traded American songs for Siwi songs. As the night progressed, Kevin brought out a bottle of Egyptian whiskey and a beer can, and the Siwans brought out their vodka and tea. Next to one of the Siwi’s bong…well, there’s a first time for everything, I guess. An hour of lame jokes later, we wrapped up in big, thick, wool blankets and slept around the fire underneath a full moon…I miss camping.

The next morning dawned clear, and we drank coffee and tea waiting for Ben to return from wanderings. I found out that my camera no longer zooms – I think sand got in it from the previous day. Shucks. Our driver brought us all back into Siwa, transporting the other three Siwans via the Toyota Cruiser’s roof. We breakfasted in Abdu’s Restaurant, checked Kevin into a hotel for a night, and went off to rent bikes for the day. We first biked to Cleopatra’s Bath, where Ben, Brannon, and I had shivered and watched the sun rise the day before. Local Siwans were cavorting around, so Brannon and I set up a slackline behind a fence in cultivated date palms. But for really persistant flies, that was awesome. By the time we were through, locals had disappeared, leaving the spring to just us. We took the opportunity to cavort ourselves. We then decided it would be neat to attempt to climb a nearby mountain, towards which we ended up off roading through really soft sand. Hiking up it went smoothly, with a couple stops here and there for Kevin and Brannon to boulder on the soft rock. We spent some time up top, then went to the higher peak, where Brannon showed off some yoga at what may have been a flagpole…? On our way down, we stopped at a wall of cracks for the two of them to boulder. Ben and I joined in for a bit, then Ben went off for personal time and I spotted the two climbers. Next, we biked furiously to Lake Siwa, the salt lake I’d watched the sun set two weeks previously. We found a different island and waded a bit among the salt water. All the trees on the island were dead, with their crowns lopped off at a specific point. Odd, but their flat surface enticed an egret to land while I watched. Headlamps helped illuminate the route back, and we got caught in a wedding celebration of donut-spinning men on motorcycles for a whirlwind minute, then we sat above Siwa’s noise and dust for supper until it was time for our bus!

Again, the bus rides were not my favorite part of the trip. Ben didn’t think so either, and the next three days after our return to Alex, he was hit by some sort of GI bug. (Ironic, that we learned the MSA verb “to throw up” that Sunday…)


Our first summited mountain was not the same pile of limestone and sandstone riddled with tombs that in local oral tradition date back to Roman times that I’d climbed two weeks previously. When asked where the bodies have gone, our driver, Hameida, responded that they were thrown out by fleeing Jews during World War II and disappeared. I have my doubts that Allied or Axis forces would want to steal the mummies for their museums, but you never know. Apparently, similarly to the caves of central Turkey, people retreated to these caves during times of persecution. I don’t have any facts to back really any of this up, so this is all hearsay.

The encounter with that bit of hearsay got me pondering something that’s tickled my mind since going to Aswan and Luxor. Our tour guide then talked about the importance of the inner most room within the temples we visited, putting an emphasis on telling us the importance of it before going into the room, in order to lend it some of the room’s original sanctity. While I don’t remember his term for the room in Arabic or in Pharaonic Egyptian, the English know the room as “Holy of Holies.” Presumably, at some point, the room and the spirit inhabiting a cult statue housed within the room would strike a chord within the two people allowed in there: the pharaoh and the high priest. They would recognize with their being something of the sacred. The room’s connection with that feeling is long gone, and the floods of tourists that pour in, around the central stone slab, and out again marvel at the room as an oddity with preserved carving rather than as some revered sacred holy site.

So that got me wondering about what bestows upon a place that sense of sacredness, and how to honor that sacredness after the society of origin has disappeared. In our anthropomorphic history, long stretches of time passed before humans separated holiness/sanctity from exclusivity; case in point are rooms such as the Holy of Holies, where two people are allowed, one of whom only at specific times. Tourists of all kinds and levels of respect for archaeology are allowed without cease into the room, and I felt no emotive reverence, only respect from a scholarly/archaeological perspective. Does the society around the place bestow it as sacred? Can a place spontaneously be sacred to one person? Regardless of a place’s claim to sacredness, how can museums and curators of sites recreate that sense, even a little bit, for their audience? How can something like a cemetery, or mountain punctuated by tombs, lend a sense of reverence to its visitors?



زبالة and روبابيكية – the Pollution Post

Time December 4th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


This trash dump from a potential construction site was my first real encounter with trash cultures similar to Egypt. This is in central rural Turkey from January.


I wish the surrounding air didn’t look like this picture from early October. Recent air quality has been worse – more tan/grey hint to the haze. My Egyptian friends call it “fog;” but this fog doesn’t dissipate with the day’s progression.


The last couple days have featured ridiculous air. I don’t mean interesting clouds, cleansing rain, intense lightening, searing heat, or even snow. (Sigh. I miss snow, like always.) I mean the air. I look out the windows of the apartment and realize that I can’t see the sea. I can’t see past the first row of buildings on the other side of the open area to the south of the apartments. What I do see is haze, brown or grey, hanging in midair. Then, I have to walk through that haze, which at street level begins to obscure buildings two blocks in front of me, to nab a taxi or tram to university. I have pet theories of why there’s a ton more haze the last couple days, but those theories aren’t based on anything scientific, so I’ll save you from them.

I’ve hinted for the last three months in various posts that Alexandria has a pollution problem. Yes, that’s a relative statement: compared to Beijing air, Alex is clean. Compared to Siwa or my family farm, though, Alex streets are a landfill. (I think Cairo’s streets and air are worse.) So, this is my official pollution post. I’m interested in raising awareness not than gag reactions, so please bear with me.

I’ll start with the streets. Egyptians seriously think nothing of throwing stuff on the ground like the ground is a giant trash bin on which we live. I’ve watched innumerable children rip open packages and throw the plastic packaging on the ground, people of all ages finish a juice box and pitch it out of transportation (both tram and cars), cigarettes get tossed everywhere, and young men fishing toss their fishing poles into the very body of water in which they just caught fish. President Morsi at one point promised (in the spirit of all idealist political promises) to clean up cities’ streets in 100 days. He’d have to change culture in 100 days, which of course didn’t happen. The result is a kind of obstacle course – sidewalks are often full of garbage, tree clippings, or are super uneven, so people walk in the streets, which aren’t the smoothest.

Trash tends to gather in certain areas, such as along the tram rails or in street “gutters”. I’m not sure who’s in charge of cleaning up the tram rails, but the preferred method of cleaning up the litter is burning it. Yes, burning it. The majority of the trash is packaging from junk food (chips, chocolate), juice boxes or water bottles, cigarettes, and plastic bags of various kinds. Invariably the smoke from such burning sites is black, and later black smudges coat various spots along the tram rails where previous burns happened.



I snapped this picture in late September walking along the tramline. The trash fire was a common sight there, and these fires are subsequently killing this tree.


On streets, the situation is slightly different. Every so often dumpsters (small in comparison with US dumpsters, but the largest trash collection receptacle in Egypt) appear along streets. Almost always these dumpsters are filled and overflowing to the street around it. There is a “class” (I use that word cautiously, but there’s a definite sector of the population who do this) of men who dig through the dumpsters for materials that they can sell to factories or someone for a pittance. These “zibela” men make their tiny living by digging through the trash, collecting it on horse-pulled carts, and competing with each other, the official city garbage men, and the “robabikia” men for remarketable products. (I saw my first city garbage truck this morning with Brannon en route to school.) Robabikia men have donkey or horse-pulled carts, and drive through residential areas screaming a version of “robabikia” at the top of their lungs; they’re looking for broken but generally usable furniture to resell. Of course, all these men do still leave trash on the streets and in dumpsters. There is a small army of men employed by (hopefully) a government to hand sweep the streets’ dust, sand, and trash into hand-pulled trash cans; these get emptied into larger dumpsters. These trashmen are distinguishable from the zibela men by their dingy though bright orange pants and grey shirts that have the recycling emblem encircling a pair of stylized hands holding a world. Even with robabikia, zibela, and trashmen, trash accumulates everywhere.

The culture of dropping trash extends past the streets and into the sea. Brannon at one point attempted to swim in the Eastern Harbor but desisted after he saw the petrochemicals covering the water’s surface and noticed he had to fight trash to get to open water. Even at our usual swimming spot at Stanley Beach, trash mixes with the beach’s sand, water jugs rest on the sea’s bottom, and trash floats through the water. I’ve seen people walking across Stanley Bridge think nothing of dropping a water bottle into the water. Stanley’s one of the oldest beaches in the city, which makes me assume that some care goes into keeping it customer-friendly. Honestly, it’s kind of disgusting walking and swimming through trash, and Stanley doesn’t have an obvious problem with petrochemicals.



Views of the Eastern Harbor.


When we were on our cruise from Aswan to Luxor, streams of oil emanated from our cruise ship as well as from the others idling at their docks. Clouds of smoke from the combustion engines also unfurled their tendrils into the air behind each ship. The ships docked such that each bow was closely behind another’s engine – diesel smoke coated each ship bow with a soot black covering. The Nile is straight up disgusting, at least between Aswan and Luxor. The water is not only slightly stagnant; it was filled with algae and other things to make it opaque. Between our ship and its dock in Aswan, discarded food lay at the bottom of the Nile.  Along our route, trash periodically littered the water. Farther down the Nile, in Cairo, people fish from the river and sell the fish as fresh and healthy in restaurants. Before coming to Egypt, I read up on the Nile – the CDC among other agencies recommend not swimming in the river, as there’s some disease contractible simply by contact with skin. Such fish as caught from the river are therefore not my choice.


View of ships at dock. Look closely, and you can see the contaminated water exiting the engines close to the water level.


Image from our felucca ride around Elephantini Island, Aswan.


This plastic bag washed up along the shore in Aina Sokhna, at the otherwise clearer Red Sea.


Cities are not normally my preferred location, partially for reasons of increased pollution, so the trash level in Alexandria has been something to which I have had to adjust. Periodically over the last three months I’ve noticed the air quality inexplicably degrading for a couple days at a time, but those times are accompanied by an unmistakable trash-burning smell that I now recognize immediately. Since coming back from this past weekend at Siwa (I went again), there’s been a thick layer of smog covering the city with no particular smell. I blame this new degraded air for the sore throat I’ve developed the last couple days, but also Ben’s sick, so I may just have a small cold from him. Christmas at home will be a welcome break from the pollution of big cities.


Open space to the south of our balcony, with a typical amount of trash.

Corn Woman No More! انا اجنبية!

Time November 27th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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If you read my blog from the very beginning, in June and July I posted some questions I thought might require steep learning curves. Food has definitely been one of those learning curves, as my transition to eating in Alexandria has been full of trouble. I intimated to some of my diet-related troubles in previous blogs. I dedicate this blog to food because I believe in food’s power to bring together communities, to influence our bodily experiences, to give us true health, and to give insight into a new place. You all know that I grew up on a farm in the US’s Midwest; fewer of you know that I began this journey reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Pollan calls Americans “corn people,” borrowing the term from the Mayan self-referential term, after all the corn Americans ingest through processed, packaged, and restaurant food. The idea that we are what we eat – i.e. an extension of our larger environment – is found also in a Navajo story about “long bodies” that I use at camp. The story of my long body includes the edible environment in which I live, which means I’m no longer a corn person. Habitual checking ingredients of packaged products, I find nearly nothing here is made with corn products, except my popcorn and corn oil. (I only use corn oil when making popcorn, otherwise I use olive oil.) I learned, in the process of checking packages, where my food originates. Though Egypt does not require country-of-origin labeling, I can pretty safely assume that most of my raw ingredients come from within Egypt; however, I know my bananas come from Ecuador and I’ve accidentally purchased apples from Washington State. Thus, I am no longer made of corn but of international products; combined with the fact that my passport says I’m American necessitates the label of “foreigner.”

I’ll spare you the dirty details, but I have diversified my diet and where I exchange printed paper rectangles for edible ingredients. Fruits I buy from large carts set up by street vendors, usually in the neighborhood called el-Ibrahim; if I’m in desperate need of fruit I’ll buy from the market-filled street Khalil el-Khayat (it’s more expensive). Both are en route from the apartments to the university, which makes fruit shopping really easy. As I don’t know how fruits are farmed (i.e. with what chemicals), I generally only buy fruits that are peeled, which means I buy a lot of pomegranate, bananas, and oranges. Earlier in the semester I bought grapes, too, but their season has since ended. Dates I’ve not purchased, but in Siwa I climbed trees to eat the drying fruits. I buy apples, too, but I cook them with cinnamon and water – love me some cooked apples! I also really love pomegranates – since I knew I was coming to Egypt I’ve looked forward to the pomegranates. Guavas I’ve purchased a couple times; they’re one of the new foods I’ve encountered. I really don’t know what to do with guavas beyond drink them.

All over Egypt there are juice shops. They’re one of my favorite things to visit – fast food in the form of fresh fruit juice. The bigger chains offer fruits from other places, those that aren’t in season, such as the pineapple, avocado, apricots, dates, plum, strawberry, kiwi, and grapes offered by one shop we frequent in Sporting (another neighborhood).  Your basic juice shop offers mango, pomegranate, orange, and sugar cane. Normally the fruit is squeezed at the shop, which means that every shop has a sugar cane press – I mention it only because you’d never see one in the US. Sugar cane juice is not as sweet as I had expected, nor is it as thick as banana juice. While you can get just one kind of juice, my favorite purchases are combinations. Some of my top combos are banana and pomegranate, or date and mango, or sugar cane and orange. I really don’t like mango in any other context.

Growing up on a vegetable farm and attending a college dedicated to providing its students local and/or diverse vegetables (among other produce), I’m used to having a lot of access to good and diverse vegetables. Though I could buy more veggies, I don’t want to deal with cleaning every head of lettuce or cabbage purchased from street vendors. So, my vegetable intake is more or less limited to carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, green (and red and orange and yellow!) peppers, tomatoes, eggplants (the fat, bulbous, dark purple kind), and some veggie that’s a mix between a cucumber and a zucchini. I eat the cucucchini like I would a zucchini. If I purchased frozen veggies, I could also buy molokhiya, peas, and green beans. Molokhiya is a leaf finely chopped before being boiled into a gooey soup. The only molokhiya I’ve not found disgusting is that of Siwa, which I could eat half the bowl – molokhiya is a traditional Egyptian dish.

There are small “supermarkets” everywhere – there you can buy oil, tea, sugar, coffee, Nutella (of which I have only bought two containers, as I’ve not purchased the equivalent of pretzels!), honey, cleaning products, diapers, eggs, pre-made food, cheese, milk, juice, yogurt, pop, chips, chocolate, bread, butter, canned food, etc. I used to frequent one called Dinosaur on Khalil el-Khayat Street, but now I go to the larger, more Western Acceptus Hypermarket in Sporting. The hypermarket actually straddles the Corniche, but is underground. Brannon and Ben tipped me off to this place; now I buy dried apricots, oats, granola, juice, yogurt, and dark chocolate there. I’ve treated myself twice to dark chocolate and once to “Istanbolly” cheese (there’s something sharply bitter about its taste) and a small bottle of sparkling pomegranate juice. (The latter was termed “non alcoholic malt beverage.”) Eggs are still cheaper at Dinosaur, but nearly everything else is cheaper at the hypermarket.

One of my largest troubles the first month or so was reconciling my food ethic – source over price – to the situation in Alexandria. I tend to prefer local/organic/small business to large, Western-style packaged markets. In Egypt, though, I get bulk things like spices, oats, cocoa powder, and dried apricots and nuts in places like the hypermarket. But for their bulk section, the hypermarket and Carrefour (where I got all my spices the first week of class) would be classic Western supermarkets. So, now I go for the least packaged and cheapest first. The process of changing that food ethic was really difficult.

I don’t eat meat outside of restaurants. Even then I don’t eat a lot of meat: I love beef, but I tend to not eat beef outside of home, because my parents buy local, naturally-raised cattle. Pork is basically banned in this Muslim-majority country, and I miss ham and bacon. One of my favorite dishes is creamed ham on cornbread – Midwestern to the core. A week can go by without me ingesting any obvious protein expect the peanuts I eat at breakfast every morning. The pictures in the video of the butcher shops should be explanation enough of why I don’t prepare meat. I could buy frozen meat, but I feel the same about frozen meat as about frozen veggies.

Restaurants are delightfully varied in Alexandria – this is an unexpected perk of living in a giant city. I’ve bought two meals of falafel for 2 LE total (that was in Siwa) and a full meal of koshary (carb city!) for 3.5 LE or I could easily spend nearly 200 LE feeding three people  at the Italian or Spanish restaurants just across the street from our apartments. Besides Egyptian fast food restaurants that offer koshary, delicacy meats like liver and heart, pizza, and falafel, there are a host of international food-based places, including the small Indonesian restaurant a bunch of friends took me out to dinner to for my birthday.

I’ve also had issues figuring out how to get lunch during the middle of schooldays. If I wait until I return to the apartments, I’ll eat lunch between 2 and 5 pm. My options around the university is mainly an Egyptian fast food chain called El Tibawy. I’m not necessarily a fan of supporting any sort of franchise. So, I often eat sandwiches prepared by the floor cleaning/drinks/food lady, Karima. She’s from Upper Egypt and speaks no MSA, but she has a huge heart and will help with our pronunciation and conversation skills in ECA.  Karima’s sandwiches are bread with cheese (either “Turkey” or “egg” cheese), peppers, and tomatoes, then microwaved and wrapped in paper towels. They’re a healthier and mostly satisfying substitute for oil-soaked koshary.

A couple of notes related to the video: I emphasized the kitchen because my favorite meal is often breakfast. At Luther, breakfast was my least diverse meal, and I looked forward to my lunch salad and dinner smorgasbord. Here, oatmeal with pear juice, granola, pomegranate/banana/apricot, peanuts, and/or honey and cinnamon/cocoa powder, with a side of mint tea and fruit juice (I just finished a container of pineapple juice) and cinnamon-honey toast is my normal breakfast. Doesn’t that sound good?

Also, I searched through my iTunes and found few songs related to food. (Why doesn’t our musical record contain more about our relationship with food?) The ones I found accompany the photos. The last song, in Portuguese, has the title of “Sanduicé,” and I hope the words mention food. Anyway, enjoy the product of my day off!


History in the Making

Time November 26th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Because this is part of my life: Egypt’s evolving political scene is incredible. I’m living in the making of extraordinary history. No where else has anyone affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) been elected to govern, and now the MB pretty much is the government. The fact that MB’s rise to elected power happened in it’s original country is also really neat for their own history. Now, though, public favor has moved away from their elected officials. President Morsi’s recent declarations have gathered other, previously independent, branches of government under his control and ousted the prosecutor general. The prosecutor general is analogous to Chief Justice John Roberts in the States, and like in the US, the position was supposed to be for life. Anyway, the declarations and related protests are literally the talk of the town. Places where IFSA students frequent, such as the university and our apartments, are away from the demonstrations’ usual origin in Alexandria. The fact that I don’t have class tomorrow is a boon, because I can spend the day working on projects for my classes and upcoming papers while watching news analysis from inside the Middle East. Boy, Egypt is a happening place!


Siwa Siwa Ahtunah! Siwa Siwa Kiwaho!

Time November 26th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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A lot has happened in the last two weeks, leaving me little time to tell you all about it. So, November 15 was the beginning of the Islamic calendar – the Islamic New Year! Of course, it’s a national holiday, giving folks time to be with family, friends, etc…because unlike the famed Chinese New Year the Egyptian Islamic New Year is just another day off. I’d signed up a while ago on (I’m not endorsing this website, just it’s a way to connect with a place to stay without traveling to hotels) when a fellow classmate Thoma went to Siwa with a CouchSurfing group. I got an email notification that there was a group going to Siwa through CouchSurfing, so I signed up to go along. Woot! Bus there overnight to arrive early Thursday morning, stay two days, bus back to give me Saturday in Alexandria before classes start. Sweet.

Well, I arrived at the bus station after drawn out dramatics from several directions concerning me going off with an unknown group alone to a strange place. My argument: yeah, but I’m not stupid, these are educated folks catering to an international crowd, and I need to get through the tacit barriers restricting the terms on which I interact with the broader Egyptian world. It ended up being four Germans, two men from Cairo, me, and the Alexandrian organizer and his wife.  Anyway, I got to the bus station on probably my best taxi ride ever – new Honda taxi, iPod hooked into the sound system and the driver had me pick music, then didn’t charge me as I was “a guest of Egypt.” What? But I got there an hour early and wandered around asking random people where I was supposed to be…that was fun. The bus was too air-conditioned and packed, so I could’ve had better sleep, but the environment I arrived at was totally worth it.

We arrived in Siwa around 6:30 am, too early for much to be open. We got to our hotel (open air again!) and the others slept, but I took the opportunity to walk around city center, buy some water (2.5 LE – cheap!), and come back to read and read and read. Mmmm. (I’d bought some novels by Middle Eastern authors that keep popping up in class, and finally had time to settle into reading them.) I also didn’t know what was going to happen when, so when we didn’t leave for the desert until 11 am I was slightly frustrated by the slow pace. After we returned from a visit to Siwa’s ancient city fortress (now eroding into a hardened mud-brick mush pile), I studied Arabic (re-writing stories corrected by my language partner), started engaging the others in some conversation…and poked around to find dates drying and falling off of trees everywhere. Wow Siwan dates are good.

The day in the desert was so much fun. We took Land Cruisers first to “Mountain of Roman Tombs” – the tombs were empty and nondescript so I climbed to the top and looked around. Next was the mountain “Footprints” – apparently several million year-old footprints “discovered” in 2007. What?! Awesome! Next was a stop at a wind-blown area where fossilized sand dollars littered bare rock. Then it clicked. I’d read/heard about an area in western Egypt where fossilized whale skeletons were scattered around the Sahara. I must have been near to that area, as the limestone (calcium carbonate, compressed shell bodies) “mountains,” fossils freaking everywhere, and footprints (in ancient hardened mud) at the top of one such mountain all suggest water. The Germans in the group (three young women, one young man, all student teachers at a Franciscan German Institute) were surprised to find fossils, and were even more surprised at my explanation.

We reached these and the rest of our sites after leaving the main road and by driving along sand, punctuated every so often by cresting dunes. Sand driving reminds me a lot of driving over snow and drifts, especially when we stopped to help two other Land Rovers out of their predicament. One vehicle was stuck to the axle, and the one tugging was progressively getting stuck. Manpower (they didn’t let women help) added to the engine power, and soon it was free! Coming from the snow-driving background, I appreciated how skilled our drivers were in recognizing where sand dipped in formations or where the hard sand was, especially as evening turned to night and differentiating between tiny dune crest and next dune became nigh impossible without lights on. The German women were definitely not used to either sand driving or snow driving and were subsequently freaked out when our vehicle began driving down the crests of dunes – often we were at a 60-80% slope compared the “flat” ground. The German young man, Aaron, and I looked at it like “sweet. Egyptian roller coaster!” and wanted to go faster, but the young women clutched at headrests, squeaked or squealed in happy fright, and were very much relieved to be driving flat again. I thought it was so cool.

We stopped next at a large, shallow, saltwater lake, where we were to have lunch. I hadn’t realized that we were supposed to bring swimming suits, so I waded around, delighting in the tiny snails, the water’s clarity, the slightly saltiness of the water, the squishiness of the ground, the landscape, and the salt crusts on dead trees. When I got tired of being in the sun and watching the men cavort in the water (they admittedly didn’t swim for long) and the German women suntan, I cozed up into some shaded sand to read before lunch of bread, tuna and onions, tomatoes and cucumbers, and chips. Desert came next, made by the organizer’s wife, and Siwi version of black tea. Yum. We sat on a cloth, around a low table set up under a “pavilion” whose ceiling was grass mats. Again, so cool.

We drove around a lot more, coming eventually to a hot spring pool filled with people from other such safaris. Instead of sitting on the edge of the hot spring (other women did that, until one slipped and fell completely in), I climbed a date palm in search of dates. Again, yum. Our next stop was a cold lake, again surrounded by other groups. Aaron dove in, but the Egyptian men in our group were far more tentative. Lots more driving later, we stopped at a big dune and the drivers pulled out sandboards. Yes! I’d been looking forward to this all day, and had at several points been disappointed they’d not made an appearance earlier. But this turned out incredibly fun. My first attempt at standing (I was the first, as the others were all more tentative) ended in an epic crash, so I tobogganed down sitting on the board. Everyone else tobogganed the rest of the time. The second time I went down I crashed halfway down and stood up the rest of the way. The third time I crashed earlier and stood up the rest of the way. The dune face was really steep for some length, than eased into a nicer slope. I had no luck standing on the steep part, so I crashed on purpose to give me a nicer slope on which to stand. The walk up the dune face was really hard, as the sand continually gave way underneath pressure.

After sandboarding, tea and chatter on the dune crest gave us time to watch the sun set and for the rest of the group to get chilly – I was perfectly fine in a t-shirt and thin pants. We drove back in the dark, had a filling supper at the hotel, and chatted around a fire of date palm and olive branches before some went to a hot spring – I went to bed. I shared a room with two of the other young women, who burrowed under blankets with many layers on for warmth. I slept in a t-shirt, shorts, under one blanket. I point out the difference because their desire for warmth colored much of their experience. The temps during the day maybe hit 80˚F; at night the temp inside the city was mid-50s. Perfect, as far as I was concerned.

The next morning, Friday, we spent much more on the town…not really. Again, at 11 we set out, which gave me morning time, which I used to read in bed. Again, wonderful. We went renting bikes, which is a general tourist attraction and where I found out how picky I am with bikes. I trail bike through Luther’s hills, and love challenging myself through biking, running, swimming, slacklining, and hopefully soon in bouldering. But, biking means I’m used to more than a functioning bike – I want one that grips the ground, has inflated tires, good handlebars, responds well, and basically doesn’t fight me. The bike I had fought me, had flat tires, and the handlebars gave me a blister. Near the end of the day, Walid (one of the Cairenes) and I nabbed a ride with our bikes on one of the ubiquitous motorcycle-trucks that constantly cruised through Siwa. Anyway, we biked to the Mountain of the Dead – take a limestone mountain and dig enough tombs into it that it is seriously honeycombed with hollow spots that used to hold bodies from pharaonic times. Two tombs had some paint remaining, so much that you could see the globs of paint and the gridlines used to keep proportions perfect. In the first, a Greek man was painted as well as Egyptians, because the tomb owner had married both a Greek and an Egyptian. The second tomb was not nearly as exciting, with only some painted sculpture fronting the doorway to the sarcophagus room.

The next stop was the Oracle of Amun. Once again, the Classics minor in me dutifully went along, but there was nothing to see. I have successfully stood in the room that Alexander the Great had kingship and godship equal to Amun bestowed upon him by the Amun high priest in early 330s BCE. The stone of the temple, being limestone like everything else, has seriously eroded over time, and is poorly shored up by classic Siwan construction – baked mud brick…though I think it’s illiteracy in Hellenistic styles rather than actual construction that is so glaringly obvious to me. No one had mentioned how long we’d expected to be biking, so there wasn’t nearly enough water to go around the group, and the organizer’s wife was beginning to suffer from heat stroke. So, while she sat (in the sun) to rest, I had more than ample time to clamber around, look at the landscape (same on all sides) and get bored. I felt I was chained to this group (the Germans were more than content to sit and watch time click by) when I wanted to go explore the actual people-scape of Siwa. So I was happy when we only stopped for a perfunctory visit to the destroyed Temple of Um Obaydi, again associated with the anciently powerful cult of Amun. (To be clear, Siwans generally are super conservative Muslims now, and it’s only through tourism that such edifices to gods other than God remain intact.)

We had pretty much the rest of the day, since our bus left at 10 pm. As it was 3 pm or so after lunch (an incredibly filling roast beef stew, the main differences from Midwestern beef stew coming in the size of chunks and lentils instead of peas. I had to pull the beef out and cut it to fit in my mouth, but it was severely succulent.) Everyone else more or less used the time to sunbathe more; I walked around Siwa, following my sense of curiosity down small alleys than anything else. I’d been out enough to get my bearings straight – I could navigate easily to the main roads, so I was comfortable walking through random residential neighborhoods. Or, I was comfortable when either no one was around or everyone was talking to me. When I get stared at with no words, I don’t quite know how to react. Anyway, I took some pictures of the actual town/city of Siwa, which is more than an oasis, to show a different side that most tourists never see. I also at one point turned onto a street the end of which was filled with men. Before I could turn away, I was nearly mobbed by fifteen or more young girls from 4 or 5 to 15 or so, all with sparkly, sequined dresses and fresh henna on their hands. All wanted to know the stereotypical questions: name, location, age, married?, name, location, name, name, name! I shot back as many questions as I got, getting many girls’ names. Oh yeah, this was all in Arabic, although the native tongue of Siwans is an offshoot of the Berber language spoken in western North Africa. Soon, older young women – my age and up – leaned through windows of the building from which the girls’ came, asking age, name, and inviting me in. Apparently, they were in the early stages of a wedding. Wow!

I didn’t accept the invitation, though I sorely wanted to, because the group was leaving in fifteen minutes to watch sunset on a nearby salt lake. We ended up getting seriously squished in a tiny van – apparently they’d not accounted for the number of people going. But it was fine, because we were more or less fine with the situation, laughing over Walid and his dates, and why Walid wanted to learn Russian. Yes, the double entendre was intentional. And the sunset was incredibly gorgeous. I loved the own space that I found there, as I waded into the lake and watched the sun set with a crescent moon hovering overhead, as well as the fun of introducing fun photos with the sun. Soon, Walid and his friend Omar were playing soccer with the sun and encircling it with their arms, while two of the Germans played volleyball and showed the sun off like Vanna White.

Afterwards, we went shopping in downtown Siwa, which is a large market square. I have some restaurants I want to hit up next weekend, when I show Ben and Brannon around and we’ll camp out in the desert. I walked around downtown twice before the others were finished purchasing dates, olives, and herbs from one shop. I chatted with Omar and Walid while walking around, speaking in Arabizi (Arabic and English creole). Later, we killed time playing hand games, talking, and me studying new words that appeared in the Egyptians’ language. Aaron and I bought falafel (1 LE for 10 falafel! – super cheap) just before heading on the bus home, which was another “fun” ride. I was too much on a high from being in Siwa to mind much, and I successfully haggled my taxi from the station to my usual tram stop from 50 LE to 15 in 5 minutes by actually beginning to walk away from the taxis. I felt good, even about that taxi ride and the fact that I sat outside the apartment for 15 minutes eating falafel and reading a book before someone opened the locked door, about the entire trip. I had a huge confidence boost from going against the complete desires of everyone concerned about my safety and having a safe and awesome time. Of course, getting out of the city seriously helped as well.


The video is chronological and without music or words because I had issues with iMovie and to give you a sense of the utter quiet I found on top of mountains and the noise within the Cruiser. Also, I Skyped with a good friend, told her about going to Siwa, and her first reaction was this twist on a familiar camp song “Fewa.” I’ve had that song stuck in my head ever since!


Papers for Islam while Christians (and Americans) Vote

Time November 11th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve spent the last week nearly non-stop in academic mode. Or attempts to remain in academic role, as some drama kept stealing my attention. Without our realizing it, our ICH teacher had assigned a 4000 word essay due this past Saturday, and I only keyed into that last weekend. I’m used to my papers being assigned in page numbers, so our first paper at 2000 words didn’t intimidate me. After writing that one, I realized 2000 more or less equals 8 pages when writing double spaced. 4000 words written and properly researched = 16 pages = AAAAHHHH!!!

So I didn’t really have time to spiff the paper before the deadline. It was all I could possibly do to gather a couple primary sources, three or so reference sources, and 6-8 secondary sources, synthesize an argument that related to topics brought up in class (I kind of stretched the connection), cook, clean up after myself, sleep, and get stuff done for other classes, plus we had a make up class (takes up 4 hours in class time and transportation) in ECA. {Strange, but apparently common. Here in Alexandria, if profs cancel a class, they expect students to come in some other time to make that class up. Not the case at Luther College, Rice University, or Oklahoma State University. Jeanette’s home institution of Evergreen State College does sometimes make up classes, but Evergreen in many ways is not your average US undergraduate institution.} So, here’s a snippet of what I’ve been dwelling on: the badly-proofed (I was sick of the paper at this point) conclusion:

“If, as in the case of music, hadiths do not clarify an issue, than individual Muslims are instructed to educate themselves and make the decision. Over the history of the debate concerning music, Muslims all over the world have been incorporating music into Islam to the degree that they see fit. Vice versa, Muslims have been incorporating Islam into their music, as in the Moroccan woman’s songs.  Throughout the long discussion of music’s appropriate place within Islam and pious Muslims, the discourse has connected with many other important discussions. Some diatribes against music can be read as diatribes against the mystics, who generally find music acceptable or even necessary. Women, refused access to approved forms of music creation, mystical enlightenment, even the non-musical Qur’an recitation or call to prayer, have created their own genres in private spaces. Many of the women’s music, along with veneration of instruments and the musical foundations for Qur’an recitation, are influence by pre-Islamic traditions while Islamic scholars shape history to forbid anything predating Islam. The debate on music is further complicated by separating Qur’an recitation and call to prayer from music, though both rituals are founded in musical styles and include melodies. All of these complicating factors in the debate on music result in a multifaceted discussion and plurality of acceptable decisions. Over time, pious Islamic scholars have supported almost every position imaginable on these interconnected issues. Muslims, then, are faced with the choice of making their own decision and adding to the plurality of Islams.”


In other news: I’m apparently done with another bought of knee-based arthritis, and to celebrate, I made cookie dough and began every-other-day yoga via YouTube videos. As I didn’t have Crisco shortening (I used olive oil), vanilla extract (skipped), brown sugar (white granulated sugar), or baking soda (baking powder)…my dough did not taste like I was expecting it too. A touch of honey, time in the freezer, and the addition of peanuts definitely helped. I currently have a small bowl of it left, and keep nibbling on it like I have ice cream. I like knowing I have something sweet that I can just take one spoonful of whenever I want, which tends to be more frequently than I planned with my current state of no-fruit-in-fridge-ness. (I’m currently taking a break from an incredibly dense reading for ICH which is part of homework, plus I had 6 hours of class without significant breaks, so my writing skills are little more than mush.)

Another update concerning living space. Long story short, my choice of compact decorations was a personalized prayer flag chain from camp. After a month of the flag chain lying on my room’s second bed, I tied one end to my chandelier and shut the other in one window. Yeah, I have to bend to get to my light, but I wake up and fall to sleep staring at the flag chain with photos of camp and family trips that I’ve taped to my wall. My room is ridiculously/blandly white, and these colorful decorations act as more than just spice to the room, they’re tangible reminders of my support network in the States. My beds are never made, though I only actually sleep in the righthand bed…


After reading some other IFSA blogs (oh, yeah, if you’ve not figured this out, click on Brannon’s name in the list of names on the left of this blog post. He’s also a blogger for IFSA, though I post far more often with more words than he does), I realize I should at least mention the US election. Yep. It was big here too, and the Consulate General in Alexandria invited everyone on the Cairo Embassy email list – which I’m on for security updates – to a big presidential election bash last Wednesday morning. With Daylight Savings Time ended in the States, I’m now 8 hours ahead of Iowa, so I woke up to the polls closing and results solidifying. I was on my way to class/in class when the victory/conciliatory speeches were spoken. We were asked in every class what we thought about the presidential elections, as our classmates are French, Italian, and Swiss. But, the BIG news early that week was the election of the new Coptic pope Tawadros II! He’s been working/being a monk (monking?) in one of the areas analogous to a diocese in the Nile Delta, which means that either Alexandria’s part of his territory or adjacent. One of our PSM profs knows him on a personal basis and is SUPER (she doesn’t do many things without enthusiasm galore) excited about his election. Both our Christian teachers are very joyful, excited about the future, and are taking off class to be at his installation mass on Nov. 18. Wow!!!

I set a high bar for myself last week showing my language partner the stories I’ve been writing in Arabics (short ones in MSA, a long one in ECA) that I’ve worked on in spare time since before Eid. I find I’m not learning enough verbal conjugations and sentence structure, so if I royally mess up stories, I’ll get corrected enough times to stumble my way into sentence creation rules. Last week I spent 3 hours at an ahwa (traditional coffee shop) an hour’s tram ride from the apartment correcting them all with my language partner. Today, she gave me new words to use in stories in both dialects, and is expecting creativity. They’ll be short stories, but hopefully I can fix some problems! I know technically I have just over a month and 10 days left in IFSA’s program, so I’ve got to watch my time management better, putting in more weekend trips, traipsing around to Alexandria’s Classical heritage sites and spending more time at the sea (I LOVED watching today’s big waves during our morning’s taxi ride while it rained!)…to that end, I’ll write more after going to Siwa Oasis this weekend!


Aswan to Luxor II

Time November 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

[youtube width=”960″ height=”540″][/youtube]

So, hopefully the video I made of the cruise will be attached to this post, and I have, unfortunately, medical updates to share. The last couple days I’ve suffered a flare up of that polyarthritis that crippled me the first month I was here, centered solely in my right knee. The last few days that knee has been seriously twice the size of my left knee, full of inflammation that kept me hobbling. Ugh – I thought I was done with that. Nonetheless, with RICE treatment and a healthy (or not so much) dose of ibuprofen in my system, I went and got groceries with Ben, found dark chocolate from Germany (hypermarkets suffer from importing foods as much as US supermarkets!), and generally had a good day (two days ago). Since Sunday, I’ve been able to walk better…but I’m still without similarly sized knees.

Oh, also, last Thursday Ben, Brannon, and I went swimming again at Stanley Bridge (because renting a jet ski near Fort Qaitbey cost 500 LE per hour!), and Friday night Ben, Jeanette, and I went to the Prague Chamber Orchestra’s performance at the Alexandria Opera House. You can guarantee a post about the Opera House later, as I’m so totally going to the performance of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” (recognize that, Luther juniors?!)!!! Anyway, I’m glad I got out this past weekend, even though wearing heels and getting semi-lost en route to the Opera House resulted in blisters.

Sunday the Coptic Church in Egypt chose its new top official, Baba Tawadros II. I have a feeling the church as a whole have big hopes for this man, as he is filling the large shoes of Baba Shenouda. Today, Tuesday, I not only register for classes in the spring semester but America votes. So, go vote!

Enjoy the video!


عيد الأضحى – Feast of the Sacrifice

Time November 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Eid al Adha is a very important festival in the Egyptian calendar. On such occasions in the States, I spend time with family (someone travels, hopefully around the exact day to avoid causing someone else to miss time with family). Normally I don’t condone using the most important holiday to travel away from family. Considering that Eid gave us our Fall Break, however, and that break is the only one we get outside of weekends, I did appreciate the ability to go away from Alexandria and to be served. I do apologize for those who took time from their holiday to work for our pleasure, and am very grateful.

IFSA took us on the second of our two excursions, and showed us another side of Egypt – that of Upper Egypt, between Aswan and Luxor. I must say I was unprepared for the layout of the cities. We also didn’t know we would have time between checking in on our cruiser (think tiny, flatboat version of the Titanic and you’re somewhat close) and leaving Aswan. We also didn’t know that a) Atlanta would be coming as well but on a different schedule, or b) once we left Aswan our time would be strictly scheduled. Once we heard she was on another cruiser, we talked about going and visiting with her but didn’t; later we didn’t get the chance. Shucks.

Leaving Alexandria on Thursday, we took the train to Cairo and spent the night in the apartments. We ran into some resistance to the idea of going out of Midan Misaha for supper, but had a really lovely walk about after taking a taxi to a recommended but closed restaurant. Later, Brannon and I continued to walk around (Ben and Jeanette having returned to rest), and watched a sheep get skinned and gutted and found delightfully smelling spices which turned out to be cardamom and coffee. Cairo is not nearly as intimidating as I remember, and our Arabic skill and confidence has dramatically improved.

We flew to Aswan, over mountains and desert, until we saw Lake Nasser. The manufactured lake is enormous but shows signs of decreased volume. To my eyes the lake and dam are obscene. After checking into and checking out the cruiser (Radamis I, managed by Swiss Inn Resort), Brannon, Ben, and I walked around the really deserted city of Aswan. (That evening all Muslim families exited their homes to mob parks – Aswan came alive!) Chatting with a Christian shopkeeper, we learned more about Eid and about the ongoing process of appointing the next Coptic pope. In Egypt, they’re not referred to as “pope” but as “Baba;” in Istanbul they are “patriarch.” I mention it only as an interesting insight into how the men are viewed. During our walk through Aswan, we also spent some minutes talking to ten or more children who mobbed us when we stopped to watch a cow slaughtering. We bought water before returning at a quarter the price of the on-board bottles. Just before supper we went out again to buy a box for the whole trip, and we found a park, played Frisbee and soccer (guys only), and chatted with more local kids.

IFSA’s Friday schedule onboard included lunch, a felucca ride, supper, and a belly dance show. The felucca ride was seriously a highlight of the whole trip, especially after I realized I had to be careful with my camera (it had one bar of battery left, and I forgot my charger). Brannon took the opportunity to remind me to be in the moment. Once again, I loved the opportunity to be quiet around water, this time with rocks, islands, plants, and colorful Nubian, German, Jewish, and commercial buildings to contemplate, as well as hieroglyphic graffiti, boats, mausoleums, and a sunset. On that ride we met our tour guide for the rest of the trip, an older man named Hassan who spoke deliberately in English though quickly in Arabic. His information was really good, but he often repeated whole stories to emphasize their importance. I found small irony in the oxymoron of “we need to save time” or “we’re short on time” and the time spent in repeated stories.

Meals on board the cruiser were incredible. The staff of chefs and waiters quickly found out that we’re learning Arabic, and thereafter nearly attacked us with proper pronunciation of greetings, dish names, ingredient names, and wished us a good meal. I appreciate their attention to details such like that personalization, but I tend to get slightly creeped out in this culture when older men want to talk to me that intensely. Anyway, every meal was buffet, with salad bar, dessert bar with fruits, bread bar, and a rice/meats array. Except Sunday night, every lunch and dinner was “international buffet,” which meant the rice was plain with a touch of garnish, two kinds of beef were cooked in with sauce or as stir fry, chicken had a marinade, fish had a sauce, and something else, such as roast, liver, etc., was grilled/served in the middle of the array. A creamy soup and blanched vegetables were also offered. I often tried everything I could, kind of stocking up on meat or meaty sauce over rice because I don’t eat meat outside of restaurants. Breakfast buffet included juice, coffee, and tea, breads and croissants, sausages (blenderized hot dog links), omelets made to order, hard boiled eggs, cereal and milk (though no granola), fruits, yogurts, jams, honey, cold cuts and cheeses (oh how I miss Istanbul mozzarella), and fuul. Omelets with fuul on top served with tomato slices followed by jam/yogurt/apricot/fruit bowl mix tended to be my breakfast. Sunday night was “Egyptian buffet;” koshary replaced rice, beef and chicken prepared traditionally, kofta was grilled in the middle, falafel, tahini, baba ghanoog, and hummus were on the salad bar along with the normal offerings, and desserts featured honey-soaked shaved wheat, Egyptian rice pudding (I like Turkish better), and Egyptian kunafa.

Saturday we toured Aswan, showing us a different touristy side of the city. Starting with the High Dam, we heard about the damming projects in Egypt (there are nine dams, the oldest from 1860s) with some “disadvantages” thrown in to counter all the positives. My favorites were as follows (at this point I was seriously skeptical about the tour guide, so understand me as slightly sarcastic here). 1) The creation of Lake Nasser has changed the weather, creating humidity enough for severe rains that are eroding the temples and flooding in the area, as well as in Cairo, Alexandria, and the Sinai. 2) The water table has risen in response to the water, seeping up the stone and weathering them that way as well. 3) Silt is only a small problem, and engineers have found scientific and technological fixes for the build up of silt behind the dam. Also, Egypt apparently gains 10-20% of its electricity through the dam, and Germany is working on building huge solar farms in the desert (a fact I believe was thrown in for the international and presumably energy conscious tourists). According to Hassan, the dam is absolutely and wholly Egyptian as well, although Soviets loaned much of the money (5 million LE in 1962), West Germany designed the dam, and Egypt split the manpower to build it with the Soviets.

One motorboat ride to and from the moved temples on the new Philae Island later, we were in a van en route to a granite quarry where we walked around an unfinished obelisk, then back to the cruiser, waiting for lunch (I swam in the sun deck’s tiny pool) and to cast off towards Kom Ombo. En route to the High Dam we saw a temple from Hadrian’s time (note: Roman Empire) that had been moved to avoid drowning it. Philae Island and its associated temples would be submerged (the actual island is) if they had not been moved as well, about ¼ mile away. Between the temples of Kom Ombo (site of two hospitals and associated dual temple) and Philae, I began to see details that were uniquely Roman in design (a lion’s mane, ceiling structure, colonnade) and began to realize the temples we think of as purely ancient Egyptian with carvings so visible on their fronts aren’t from pharaohs, they’re a product of Hellenized elites or Romans trying to win support from their subjects. Huh!

Casting off was an unusual process, as the cruiser levered itself from the others at the dock, putted into the middle of the river, spun around, then chugged downstream. Besides the turning involved, passengers really felt nothing except a slight change in engine sound. Watching the banks pass and changing scenery was fun, but watching from outside forced you into really hot weather. I alternated between the small deck outside our rooms, inside the cruiser, and in the shade on the sun deck. Soon, I was fighting the setting sun for visibility, but teatime in the form of Moutaz (schedule man extraordinaire) called.

By now, we had gained a few extra members to our group. Besides the IFSA crew, Hassan was guiding a family from New York (parents visiting their son who is studying abroad at American University of Cairo), an Iowan teaching art in Cairo named Marie, and (though they joined us later) a young Egyptian family (doctors with a four year old daughter and infant son). Marie ended up doing most things with us, even sitting with us at meals – we’d integrated her so she wasn’t forced to do things alone. She, in turn, loved us wholeheartedly, and conversations definitely benefitted from having a new perspective. I, for one, learned of a new place to visit in the States: Ashville, North Carolina. We were more restricted from getting to know the others on the cruise, as twenty-some were Colombian and seventy-odd were Jordanian, speaking their respective dialects solely.

We were pressed for time at Kom Ombo, as the site was going to close for the evening. Walking there, we experienced something that became constant: anytime the cruise was close to land, men and boys hawked their wares at us. It was like walking the gauntlet; thank goodness I speak enough Arabic to not only get past these men but also intrigue them as more than a moneybag. Kom Ombo’s standing temple was created again during ‘Ptolemaic’ period, but one highlight was a carving of the bottom half of Trajan (presumably known by text) kneeling to the architect of the first pyramid, deified as the god of medicine. Trajan was Hadrian’s adopted father, again during Roman occupation – I think this may have been an addition to the original temple building. An associated museum of crocodiles was interesting – I have now seen way more mummified crocodiles behind glass than live crocs on TV. Needless to say, I’ve not seen a real croc outside a zoo, and motoring down the Nile did not give us a glimpse of one.

Sunday morning we woke around sunrise to see Edfu temple (Ptolemaic) before breakfast. The temple was part of a large complex including houses of builders and carvers, and we arrived there by horse-drawn carriage. Most of the horses were skin and bones, even though we watched some eat the Egyptian version of alfalfa. I fed our carriage’s horse most of the pear I brought for pre-breakfast. Although the cruise needed to leave by 8:30 am to reach Luxor with enough time for Karnak and Luxor Temples, the Jordanian delegation didn’t arrive back until after 9 am. The result was we had no schedule except one meeting, meals, and a “galabiya party” that day. I used the time for a two-hour nap, studying Arabic, eating, and writing, and watching the cruisers go through locks at Esna. Vendors used the locks to not only stand on the locks, throwing wares to prospective customers on the sun deck but also rowed to oncoming cruisers in hopes of getting to the sitting cruisers first. As I was tucked into a corner of shade, no one noticed me until Jeanette looked to me for help, after which a Jordanian’s successful bargaining entertained me.

After we docked and before supper, Brannon, Ben, and I ventured out, thinking we’d explore Luxor. We soon realized we were far from the city, and in an attempt to get directions got distracted talking to three boys from the nearest village of Raffa. We learned names of the plants in the closest field, the guys rode an emaciated donkey and “wrestled” with the boys, we took pictures, ate just-picked green clementines, received flowers and peppers, and almost left when the boys started talking about a gun…when it was a cap gun, we stuck around just long enough to agree it was cool. What was even cooler was the fact that we eventually understood every point the boys made and could communicate back relatively easily. Later, we met and somewhat befriended an English-speaking Nubian who toured us around his village, showed us the beginning of a wedding party (I’d been attracted to the sound and suggested going back into town, which is how we met the man), and took us into the countryside until we decided we should return for supper. The guys were totally happy with such events; I was also happy about the change in decision-making power and experience, except the fact that I was pretty much relegated to the role of follower. I barely was looked at three times by the Nubian man, and the boys talked to me when Brannon or Ben couldn’t figure out what they were saying. Therein lays my paradox living in Egypt: I either go out alone and risk harassment or I go with one or both guys and don’t get the opportunity to use my Arabic. Urg.

Monday was another early morning. We went to the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Hatshepsut, Valley of the Queens, Colossus of Memnon, Temples of Karnak, and the Luxor Temple. At each place, Hassan told us to put on “camel faces” to the vendors to save time, but they continued to aggressively hawk their wares. It didn’t help that every place and nearly every stall had the same things nor when vendors walked a distance with you, progressively lowering prices from 50 to 1 LE or so in two minutes.

We spent from 6:30 am to 1:15 pm straight between sites; by the end we were seriously lagging. I’d made a couple sandwiches of Egyptian pita, cooked peppers and onions, and kofta, as well as snuck out an orange, but no one else really had food. On cruise, where lunch was not included in our package, the buffet cost 92 LE. I stuck with my sandwiches, until the airport, where I bought peanuts and Pringles, then had a schwerma for dinner in Cairo. It wasn’t until Cairo that I realized, thanks Moutaz!, that midday in Upper Egypt was in the mid-30s˚C! No wonder I was dehydrated after drinking nearly three liters of water.

While getting on the plane to Cairo, I ended up chatting delightedly with a woman from Indiana, who had spent 21 days in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with a group of friends. Again, this encounter encouraged me, as her wry humor supported my decision to study abroad. That she knew Luther excited me, as she gushed about the campus like everyone who knows campus. She emphatically recommended spending a couple nights in Wadi Rum, among the Jordanian Bedouin. I wasn’t able to visit Wadi Rum over January, and I’m kind of looking for destinations off the beaten track for November and December.

The upshot of this vacation is exhaustion, which a long sleep last night in Cairo definitely helped. I got a lot of history and language etymology (some of which I suspect were false) from Hassan. I know that I can separate the different periods of history only because I studied Egypt under pharaohs as a child, and am a Classics minor. The average tourist, given the same tour, would think all those temples came under the same culture, whereas so much had changed between the construction of Hatshepsut’s temple, somewhat toward the end of the last pharaonic period and the synthesis between the Roman and Egyptian pantheons in temples saved from Lake Nasser. I kind of wanted a better timeline, so I could place the carvings, paintings, and architecture of the sites into a mental typology (that’s my archaeological training coming out). Brannon was super temple’d out by the Temples at Karnak, and (partially to Superstorm Sandy hitting the East Coast of the States and resulting worry about his parents, but also due to other things) Ben walked home from the train station today for personal time. Moutaz was really excited to be with his family today, as soon his sister will take his new nephew back to Kuwait. Jeanette is, as always, relieved about any opportunity to rest. On the flip side, I really appreciated seeing another side of how Egyptians live. Outside of Cairo and Alexandria and the hubs of other cities, Egypt is a different place. Clothing, linguistic markers, available education and careers, even basic opportunities are very different. Ben put it this way when talking about our walk through Aswan: “We just did the stereotypical walk through a third-world country; dirt streets, no women, livestock killed in the street, mobbed by kids.” Seeing the difference between rural Raffa and Cairo made me realize living in Alexandria has been shaping my view of Egypt on a level analogous to assuming all Americans are New Yorkers.



Streamers adorn light posts above our heads at a parking lot near the train station at Sidi Gaber – streamers in preparation for Eid.


If families can’t afford to sacrifice a whole sheep on Friday of Eid, one option other than receiving a donation from a wealthier family (part of the reason of sacrificing on Friday of Eid is to give out portions to the poor) is to buy smaller quantities of meat or meat slaughtered before Friday. The week leading up to Eid saw a ton of labor at all slaughterhouses in Alexandria and Cairo that I saw. Once killed, drained, and skinned, animals hang like this in front of the butchers’ shops. This is why I don’t eat meat outside restaurants.


Not only did I witness all sorts of methods of hauling meat around the city after death but I also witness the craziness of bringing tons of animals into the city. Sheep were housed in crowded corners near butchers, seemingly unaware of their fate. A cow running loose in Roushdy about ran into one of our Arabic TAs! I also saw a skinned bull carcass laying in the rather unsanitary bed of an Egyptian pickup truck. Last thing about the sheep – in Egyptian cuisine, the fatty tissue at the base of the tail is prized as cooking oil, though many educated Egyptians recognized verbally to me the artery-clogging nature of their food.


Just Another Boring Classics Minor

Time November 2nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Note: I originally wrote this post the week before Eid and going on the cruise. Since I wrote this, I’ve been a bit more adventurous…and also I went on a cruise. Post on that coming soon. I just had to publish other blogs first.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: my life in mid-October did not really include any other plans but wake up, make a breakfast of honey cinnamon toast, yogurt/fruit or leftovers from supper, dink around a little, get ready, go to school, attend classes, go home, grocery shop en route, eat lunch between 2 and 5 pm depending on the day, do homework or dink around on the Internet, perhaps make something for supper or heat up leftovers, go to bed. On days without 9 am class, I tend to take Brannon’s slackline and spend some dedicated time at the British Embassy Gardens before class. Yep. Boring. Let me assure you, though, dinking around usually centers around something productive intellectually. I either am in email communication with family or friends (which means writing missives), writing blog posts (writing long missives, as you’ve seen), watching YouTube (presidential debates, subscriptions), or reading webcomics or political articles.

So I got sick of being inside and in Roushdy two weekends ago, and I went out. Normally, in societies similar to the traditional, tightly knit patriarchy of Egypt, stories that begin with “she went out” end in trouble. Classic example: Dinah in Genesis 34:1…the story ends with a massacre of women, children, and recently circumcised men in retribution for a slight on a family’s honor. That’s trouble.

I went out, as any good Classically minded scholar, to visit a Roman monument, though the city was far more important before Rome captured Egypt. One long tram ride, a jaunt of a walk, and 35 LE later (I forgot to emphasize that I was a student, so I paid the full price…I rationalized the cost by considering the poverty of even official employees), I walked into the closed-off area. And found that my Arabic skills were useful yet again. A guard yelled to a Brazilian man (tan with black coarse hair and beard) in Arabic, assuming by appearances that the latter was no foreigner. Mr. Brazil, in return, was utterly confused. All the guard wanted to tell him was that he could go down some arena steps set up in front of the amphitheater, the position of which was confusing me…long story short Mr. Brazil chatted me up (I went by the name Brittany, which was a good choice) and his “brother” from Peru finally got annoyed with our historically-based chatter. I also ended up helping out two older ladies from Italy. I like this knowing basic Arabic stuff.

The amphitheater itself, as far as I could tell, was seriously nothing spectacular. This I don’t understand – under Roman rule, amphitheaters, bathhouses, and fora were the center of city life. Yet in a city where life flourished, all that remains is more or less a pile of rotting bricks and a tiny amphitheater and one semi-conserved villa. There are, of course, other monuments in the city that I have yet to see, but this was disappointing. Also, I find fault with the Polish/Egyptian archaeological mission, who are supposedly working this site, because there is little to no interpretive signage. Oh, excuse me. The Polish/Egyptian site has no signage; I was including the Italian-managed Villa of the Birds in my thought. There is one interpretive board in the Villa of the Birds. Still, pathetic. I can appreciate the walls, because my classwork informs my vision a little more than the average tourist.

Also, I should also mention I hold dwindling respect for the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. The recent head, Dr. Zahi Hawass, resigned roughly the same time as ex-president Hosni Mubarak. I respect that the SCA is responsible for working towards restricting antiquities on the black market (I don’t like the idea of profiting rich people as through proper antiquities buying auctions, but as a scholar, I prefer artifacts to retain associated information, like original location, when found, and information about its context). I do not respect an (purportedly) academic oversight council with significant ties to commercialism, prejudice, or any sort of regime. [Since the cruise, more respect for that very same Dr. Hawass and the SCA has dwindled even farther!] Another side note: I filed complaints in my journal in J term against the Italian archaeological mission’s handling of artifacts in Turkey, and I find the same complaints creeping through my head in Egypt. Why must I apparently find fault with handling of archaeological artifacts? I know I’m not super interested in spending my life correcting how artifacts are displayed or preserved. I just know that pollution is seriously melting stone and brickwork, and letting ignorant visitors rampage around artifacts seriously detracts from the artifacts’ current condition.

I won’t bore you wonderful readers with further description of what I found, except in the snippets of each picture. If you have questions, send me an email or leave a comment!

p1110877 Proof of who is supposedly working the site.

p1110885 Statue of Muhammad Ali (19th century figure) over undated (Roman?) walls in the site. I just liked the juxtaposition of histories.

p1110892 p1110908 Larger views of the area I visited. The left hand one is from the top of stairs I thought was the amphitheater until I saw how little weathering the benches and steps had. What are you going to do there, host a crowd to watch a play with the tiny amphitheater in the background? Unlikely…

p1110888 The two figures are the Italian ladies I helped. Honestly, this view is reminiscent of Ephesus’s main drag for me.

p1110892 p1110884 There you have it: the amphitheater. Where’s the full scena? The structure independent of a hill due to the Roman invented concrete? I think I’m missing something, or it really is that small.

p1110879 The Coptic presence in the city is obvious on a chunk of rock, perhaps a column capitol, through the etched Maltese cross.

p1110878 p1110880 Ah. These pillar bases are more Roman in design, featuring motifs similar to stereotypical Corinthian (the leafy, crazy, and busy) capitols. Also, the mosaic picture came from behind the pillars. Similar mosaics adorn the the space we now call a sidewalk in Ephesus, which functioned more like houses’ front yards.

p1110915 p1110894 p1110900 p1110906 Don’t you want this as your tub? Also, this is how artifacts are displayed. No interpretation.

p1110926 p1110923 p1110919 p1110918 p1110917 Images from the Villa of the Birds; the first one is the housing of the Villa, and the method of keeping people (like me) out unless you have the ticket. Also, I had to ask a guard to find me the woman with the key to open the door specifically for me, as I was the only visitor at that time with the tenacity to get the Villa opened. Arabic to the rescue once again!


The Arab Springs

Time November 1st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve been studying “the Arab Spring” in my Politics and Social Media class. It’s high time I express a thought niggling around my head for a while. Background: there’s no such thing as one Arab Spring. Each country expresses the revolutionary spirit Western journalists lumped together as one monolithic “Arab Spring;” even in country, various areas expressed the revolutionary fervor in different ways. For example, the tribal-sectarian lands of Libya responded with force to the violence Qaddafi used in speeches and physically unleashed, whereas Siwa Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert saw little revolutionary protests. However, there is a few things linking the revolutions, protests, reformations, and minor unrest that swept the Middle East and North Africa (MENA): usual method of expressing dissatisfaction (initial nonviolent protests generally physically occupying a central open area in the capital city), demands (reform from perceived political stagnancy), and causes (high unemployment, police brutality, lack of governmental transparency, ridiculous wealth gap between public and elite, etc.). Also, as we’ve studied mainly the countries with actual regime changes (Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria because it’s still ongoing), each country’s revolution has seeds in demonstrations beginning 20 to 25 years ago.

I researched Libya’s pre-revolution political space for a presentation a few weeks ago; Qaddafi’s violent discourse stuck out to me as showing his defensiveness – he was seriously afraid. Geographically, Libya is between Tunisia and Egypt, and its revolution began about five days after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resigned. Libya, therefore, by being between the largest “successful” revolutions geographically was potentially at risk for having those successes influence Libyan dissenters. Qaddafi, realizing this, ramped up violence physically and rhetorically, literally reigning by terror using past methods of quelling demonstrations in an attempt that simply disintegrated into international warfare once NATO stepped in to secure the airspace. From the research I did through news articles, I found Tunisians and Egyptians influenced Libyans. Libyans no longer saw their dictatorship government as set in stone. Dr. Heba said one day that even if the Egyptian Revolution failed to change the political establishment, it succeeded in one aspect: fear of the establishment has been broken.

As an American, I was educated to regard the foundations of the US federal government (the Constitution and current expression of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches) as unchangeable. Effectively, I’ve always seen countries changing constitutions as wishy-washy, whereas America is a stalwart country having one Constitution written in titanium. Note the hindsight bias, as Articles of Confederation are ignored, the process of writing the Constitution forgotten, and the patriotic overtones in the previous statement. I’ve studied enough of the Arab Springs to begin to question my own government. We have our own form of corruption in pork barreling. Two election cycles have passed since I could vote; in both of those I remember complaints of partisanship as overwhelming issues. I no longer view the US government as an institution that is only changeable by voting for the lesser of two evils for whatever position (especially president). If I gathered enough of the population, we could completely rid ourselves of the career politicians, if not the entire system. However, I don’t want to rid the States of our governmental form…I’d be ok with switching around the people occupying the available slots to non-career politicians.

Via NPR podcasts, I’ve been hearing about China’s political unrest. I’ve not researched it fully, but perhaps China’s intellectuals and general public have reached their breaking point, and are being influenced by MENA populations again to break fear of monolithic regimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Latin American countries (of which I have done no research nor am I particularly interested in doing research, I’m just positing a generalization) also followed the MENA countries, or if the MENA countries had learned from the Latin American revolts of the mid-20th century. No matter who or where goes up in flames next, class is teaching me again the value of dialogue, sticking to emphasizing moderation over extremism, critical analysis, my liberal arts education, and thinking outside the box of historical precedent.



Time October 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So. I’ve mentioned slacklining a couple of times now, and I had to explain to my parents what a slackline is. I’m used to explaining it to urban Egyptians, who have no such thing, so…

Slacklining began as a recreational sport in Yosemite National Park, as bored climbers in the 1970s got creative with their climbing gear. Nowadays the equipment and recommendations for use are a tad more geared towards the general public. A basic slackline is a long strip of nylon webbing perhaps 2” wide with a ratchet connected to a much smaller chunk of same width webbing. Both strips have large sewn loops on the ends. In terms of equipment, think about the materials holding down semi cargos on interstates, and you’ve pretty much got it. Wrap a strip around a pole, tree, or anything else solidly anchored, pull the other end through the loop (like tying up a dog via the leash), weave the long strip through the ratchet, and tighten. If you do those steps correctly, you have a long strip of webbing able to hold your weight off the ground.

You see, that is the point of slacklining – to walk on a thin material at some distance off the ground. The necessary balancing is great exercise anyway, and with time, you can do tricks, yoga poses, sleep, and pretty much anything on the line that is possible on solid ground. Loosen the tension just a bit, and you get a harder workout. Tighten it, and it’s great for beginners. Same thing with distance off the ground – small is great for beginners (me!), whereas distances from the ground reach over 500 feet in the subset of slacklining called “highlining.” Of course, you can YouTube both terms and find crazy videos of really awesome examples, as well as people trying hard.

Yes, Egyptians don’t understand the set up until either Ben, Brannon, or I get on and begin doing our thing. Brannon is far and above the best (he’s done it longer), creating higher lines at 10’ or doing tricks at shorter lengths and lower heights. He averages lines of 60-100’ long, while Ben and I stick to 15’ maximum. Another difference is when we go slacklining. As a beginner, I’m self conscious, and can’t concentrate with an audience. I’ve found that going to our prime location, the British Embassy Gardens, at 7 am gives me space. (Yes, the fact that I get more attention naturally as a blonde young woman did factor into that decision. I use slacklining as time to focus on myself, almost as meditation, and that is really hard to achieve when men pester me with questions.) Brannon tends to slackline in afternoons, and Ben in the evening.


العين السخنة – Ain Sokhna

Time October 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Note about the pictures: just in case you want to blow the pictures up, click on the link to “My Pictures” and click on the picture you want there. One of the cement-block pictures doesn’t blow up…and I’ve not spent the time to figure out where I put that one…This is for clarification purposes, not because people have contacted me. :)


As you might have known, IFSA planned an excursion to the Red Sea. Unbeknownst to us, however, the planned excursion was to a Red Sea resort town called Ain Sokhna. We complained before hand that we were spending what seemed like a whole day to travel round trip to spend only one day (from 12:30 pm Thursday to 4 pm Friday), but then we saw the going room rates and realized the expense induced for our pleasure. I’m not going to lie: having time to be in a place without trash lying around, near utter silence early in the morning and a far lower decibel level at any time in the day, an easily-accessible sea not 400 m from my balconied room, and not cooking yet eating at a supper and breakfast buffet was a great experience.

Early Thursday morning we went to the Sidi Gaber train station and stood on the platforms for around 45 minutes to wait for the direct train to Cairo. In the meantime we watched cross-city trains come and go, gathering people and dumping enormous numbers off. We had to remain on the platform because the terminal itself remains under construction. I have my doubts that the terminal will be used as a waiting room when/if it ever is complete, based on our experience in Cairo. Anyway, the first class direct train is very similar to general class Amtrak in the States. At the Cairo station (where we were hit with a blast of hot wind – I’d forgotten how hot Cairo is) we hopped into a waiting travel van and crawled out of the city (Cairo traffic: ugh). Soon we were on the Army-made, nearly empty road through the Eastern Desert (think Badlands with no grass and rock in hues of brown and black), replete with random decorations and statues.

p1110766 Part of the Eastern Desert, and the other half of the road.

Pulling into the hotel was like pulling into a fantasy of villas on the Mediterranean, your stereotypical white/cream stucco buildings with open-air staircases, two stories, overlooking a blue sea and tan-white sand. What. But, it turned out we had rooms not in a separate building (I’m guessing those were either really expensive or private residences) but in a hotel-like building built on the same lines. It was kind of a shock to realize that you could, seriously, build something for year-round use that was not fully enclosed. Wow…later I looked up our latitude and realized for the first time that Egypt is roughly on par with Florida.

p1110868 p1110870 p1110871 Views of the Cairo Train Station. Leftmost: The decorated but unappreciated lobby that’s a passthrough room. Middle: close up on the ceiling. Right: The platform shed space that captures engine pollution but assumedly keeps out sun.

Getting checked in was interesting. Only Jeanette and I had our actual passports with us. She was the only one with an Alexandria University student ID, having had one made after her US IDs were stolen a couple weeks ago. We were still on tourist visas but we’d been booked as if we had our residential extension, and convincing the front desk to still let us in took some time. During the process, however, we stood around in the massive lobby, wondering what was taking so long. Brannon convinced Ben that the two of them had to go back to Alexandria that night and return with their passports. Jeanette thought, since she’d been singled out for the extra ID, that she was the one who had to go back. I laughed at the guys and tried to comfort her, while trying to get Moutaz to give us the truth.

p1110793 p1110768 Left: these approximately 20′ murals are part of the lobby. Right: our room, taken from the balcony.

Anyway, after getting in and finding our rooms, we had to find lunch…it’d been something like 6 hours since we’d eaten. My pizza was huge and hot…not bad for LE 30 at a resort! Then, after more stress as Moutaz and Mariam tried to distress Jeanette while I grew more frustrated at vocal tones…it was hit the water time. There’s an artificial pool between the arms of the hotel, used by little kids. Everyone else just goes to the sea, where the beach is filled with chaise lounges, wooden umbrellas, and periodic rope boundaries. On either side you could see mountains, but even though the Sinai Peninsula was close, particles in the air restricted visibility. That afternoon/evening we played Frisbee, bounced in waves, swam out almost to a buoy, and marveled at the tiny seashells, sand dollars, and bits of dead coral washing up on the sand. The slope into the water is incredibly gradual, and afternoon is an obvious low tide – tidal differences are something like 30 feet or so.

p1110772 p1110774 Views as we walk to the beach – the sand is meticulously combed and manicured into very cushy grass. The beach is combed every morning to sort out footprints.

p1110779 p1110785 Playing: The guys raced in as we went to the slackline, and Jeanette wings a frisbee at Ben.

By the late afternoon, Brannon, Ben, and I set up the slackline between pylons of a long cement and metal wharf (holy mussels Batman!) that extends far into the sea. Brannon showed off for us, doing backflips into the sea; Ben tried standing up. I refrained for healing purposes, though moving through the sea eased joint pain that had flared while sitting in the train and van for so long. We ensured that we took the slackline down early enough to make our reservation at the dinner buffet. (Also, showering was fun until Jeanette figured out how to make the tub flow turn into a shower…I was dry by that time…) I was definitely one of the more spiffed up eaters in a long-sleeve shirt and scarf (ironic considering the reminder on our room cards). Because we ate outside, by the time I ate the hot food, I was far warmer than the food itself. As for the food, the diversity was incredible, but having had mallard roasted after it was shot that morning during a break in Minnesota (thanks Craig and Urs!), I avoided the roasted duck offered. Instead I had boring beef stroganoff, tried fried calamari, rice, LETTUCE!!!!, fruit, and succulent chocolate on cake. I also had my first piece of kunafa, which Egyptians call something different.

cimg0252 Brannon’s most successful backflip!

cimg0254 View south of the main beaches…machinery made me curious, and the mountains just called to Brannon.

cimg0256 Apologies that Brannon’s camera’s not as good as mine at sunset photos, but this is over the wharf and date palms. Mmmmm.

Everyone conked early, though I went on a walk – it was marvelous walking through the dim lighting at night and not a thought for my security. I woke up to Jeanette working with her phone – the only sound except birds. Wonderful! I walked around for a bit on the beach alone, enjoying the time to myself, than ate with Jeanette: lettuce salad with carrots and dried apricots, then a couple pancakes with chocolate syrup, strawberry jam, and pear/apple fruit salad. Next step? Go swimming. The water was so awesome – I entered the water just before 8:30 am – I had my watch to prove the time. Imagine stepping from a slightly sloping empty beach into perfectly calm water. Looking ahead into the water, you notice there is no horizon. That’s odd; looking down you can see your feet resting on tiny sand dunes through the water’s greenish/blue filter. Look forward again, and ahead the water is a white/grey, with the tiny wavelets differentiated as only slightly more blue. The sky above continues the water’s continuum of blue at your feet to white at eye height to a purer blue straight above, but the edges of that spectrum are completely indecipherable. Start swimming. Your hands in front of you create small green/blue wavelets, but farther out the spectrum is undisturbed. I swam through that color for around 45 minutes out, until I was midway between the end of the wharf and the buoy – high tide lent more swim time to that distance. On my return, I just floated for a while; the salt content and altitude lent the water a higher density than pool water, so the tiny waves (they continued to get bigger until we left, but the highest wave was only 5 inches then) could rock you without getting your eyes wet. That was probably my favorite hour of the excursion.

p1110807 p1110789 p1110798 Night views. Left: from the pool looking at the main hotel building. Middle looking from a staircase at the open floors. Unfortunately I could see no more stars than in Alex due to the lights, even along the coast. Right is through a fabricated waterfall that on my way back to the room shut off. Weird, but very cool.

p1110816 p1110775 Morning views! Also, the seashell was incredibly spiky, though its spikes were all of 2 mm long.

Later, Ben and I set out on a double kayak and Brannon took a single kayak (ok, these were not kayaks, they were large plastic toys) for a bit…Ben was not at top game and I wanted to shower, so while we turned in, Brannon took off for a tank in the far distance. Next I saw him, an hour or so later, he was as big as three periods stacked on top of each other. We ate on the lounge chairs on the beach (fries and a schwerma that was excellent with ketchup). For the last hour, we set up a long slackline that frustrated Brannon until just before we left. Waiting for the van to pull up, Jeanette played about 3 minutes on the lobby’s 6’ grand piano, which was a huge stress reliever. I am really proud of our conversation on the train ride home; I learned a lot. The day we spent at the resort was a stress reliever, and I look back on it with a lot of pleasure. We played around with Arabic word games on the way home, which also was fun.

p1110834 p1110844 p1110866 Left: Brannon returns his kayak. Middle, Brannon right before falling. It sounds like I have a preference for taking pictures of Brannon, but believe me, I have a lot of pictures of Moutaz posing, Ben watching the sand, and Jeanette relaxing. I choose my pictures for clarity of storytelling and aesthetics, with a good dose of respecting the person involved. I was so happy to get the smile that crept along Jeanette’s face in the right photo as she played!

Medical update: I still feel joint pain, now concentrated mainly in my elbows. But it’s inconsequential compared to earlier. The pain in my right hip flexor has decreased significantly over this week, and a couple days ago I went slacklining at the British Embassy Gardens. I can balance on one foot for up to 45 seconds and I took two steps fully. Yay! All pain went away overnight at Ain Sokhna, but I remembered to be careful on Friday. En route home, however, my stomach informed my brain that my GI system was not happy…my diet had caught up to me. I’d been eating mainly rice and pancakes, since the stress of getting diverse groceries was a little beyond my problem-wracked body. Then, I hit my system with diversity at the resort, and it rebelled with diarrhea. I’m currently working on diversifying my diet in reaction to this latest situation.


Academically, I had a seven-eight page paper due in ICH on Friday last (I turned it in on Saturday before noon, ahead of the boys) and a presentation to give in PSM. Forgetting to look over my notes before the presentation, I took far more than the 10 minutes allotted, but I don’t think Dr. Heba minded much. And I had good information – I learned a lot about the political landscape of Libya before and during its “revolution” to establish whether I thought the incredible violence there was inevitable. I have to say that I think it was, due to Qaddafi’s pre-2011 policies, his reaction, and his rhetoric, though even the original protestors didn’t come to the table without stones and gas bombs. This coming week, as we slide into the Eid al-Adha holiday (Feast of the Sacrifice, Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac or Ishmael, depending on your religion), I have a presentation in Dr. Naglaa’s PSM…on a subject that is currently super vague.  My Arabic seems to improve on a daily basis, and I know my vocabulary is expanding because in two hours with my language partner, Dina, I spent nearly as much time talking in Arabic as in English. I’m pleased with my progress, though I could come more prepared to classes, like skimming readings before class and continuing to organize, find, and learn vocabulary.


Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Time October 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Disclaimer: while the entire complex at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is three buildings, a plaza, and sculpture installations, the name “Bibliotheca Alexandrina” also refers to the building holding books, computers, meeting rooms, and reference desks open to readers. While English speakers may refer to the complex and library as the “Library of Alexandria,” the Latin translation is the official name, besides the Arabic (here, transliterated) Muktaba al-Iskandreya. In this post, I refer to the complex as the “Bibliotheca Alexandrina” and the library building as “the library” for sake of clarity, though this system runs against common speech.

Driving through Alexandria en route from Cairo, we swept past the famed Bibliotheca Alexandrina for the first time. We got the chance to take a tour during orientation. Since then, I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to go back. But, I have a feeling it’s a untapped resource that I should be able to utilize.

p1110570 p1110572 The building was designed by a Norwegian firm in conjunction with a committee of Egyptians. Their goal was to recreate a setting where culture from all over was celebrated, and the design reflects this. The exterior is surfaced with blocks of concrete impressed with pieces of script from as many real human languages and alphabets as you can imagine. Though sometimes letters from the same alphabet end up next to each other, there was no intended hidden symbols to be conveyed to people literate in this or that language. I think that’s really cool, and it robs innovative thinkers like Dan Brown from profiting off of the “hidden symbolism.” (Look hard at the right photo, and you’ll find a reconstructed statue of Ptolemy II, the original financier of the first, destroyed Library of Alexandria. His statue, combining Greek style facial features with the Pharoanic male standing statue, was found in the Eastern Harbor. I’ve got more classical archaeological knowledge where that came from!)

p1110575 But the Library itself is part of a complex of three buildings. This diagram was just inside the library building. The big circle on the right is the library itself, and its roof does slope like that, to symbolize the sun rising from the sea. To the left of the library is the complex’s oldest building, a convention center. I’d not been in the center until Thursday. The third building is a small sphere, visible as a black dot between the two aforementioned buildings and the Corniche, which is the only thing separating the Bibliotheca from the sea and harbor. That sphere is a planetarium, hosting purely scientific shows on astronomy, anatomy, and evolution. I’ve not been to a planetarium show, but the outer edges of the planetarium connect with the Library building underground, so I peeked into a playroom designed kind of a memory of the Iowa Science Museum, before it moved downtown.

p1110573 p1110574 As the library, if not also the planetarium, was finished in 2002, the firm included modern art installations in the lobby and outdoor plaza-like space connecting the three buildings. This piece, and its closeup, is built exclusively of painted gears, bike chains, and nails. It’s a pretty crazy cool image of underwater.

The library has 11 floors from its highest edge to the underground floors. There is potential space for something like 5-10 million printed books, the library also hosts a machine that can print and bind books under 5 minutes (the second in the world) as well as hosts online archives of digitized books, and the library is the backup server for the San Francisco-based Internet Archive – saving every webpage that has ever been online for reference and study. My blogs are a part of that!

p1110576  p1110581 So, I’m a big fan of Norwegian architects in part because I see a lot of innovation coming from the Scandinavian architects. The right picture looks down into a couple floors of the Reading Room, which is stepped because of the exterior form. Pillars of course hark to Pharoanic times with the lotus shape, and the windows are designed to let in as much light as possible without ever having direct sunlight distract readers or UV rays hit books. Wow. The left picture is taken from the bottom of the sloping windows, so you can get a better idea of how the windows are designed. On the outside, the windows create a neat visual when walking along the Corniche, an added aesthetic bonus. The middle picture is a shot of the planetarium at night from the Corniche. The yellow blur at the bottom is a taxi cruising along.

p1110577 Back inside the Reading Room, if you follow the slope of the whole room to its apex, you see an interesting form kind of hovering around a couple pillars, as if a couple of Lórien elves had built in metal and concrete instead of living trees. These are conference rooms for board meetings or presentations that don’t require an auditorium setting. What a meeting that would be.

p1110579 Go down a couple flights of stairs, at the very bottom floor of the Reading Room, and you find a bunch of near-museum quality galleries. Here, Moutaz poses next to one art piece. Modern art is displayed next to story boards, costume designs, and recreated rooms from a famous Egyptian cinematographer’s life. One gallery is dedicated to Anwar Sadat’s life, and the nationalism feeling ripe within that room is familiar to anyone who has visited Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara. It’s a reverence combined with an intolerance for criticism overlaid with videos of speeches resonant with Hitler’s tones unlike anything in the US. I appreciated to have the chance to visit it, but it’s definitely not somewhere I’d frequent, especially not the ever-present knot of people around a case containing the suit of Sadat’s assassination, accompanied by the video of the assassination. Also present are installations from different media, including traditional outfits from Iraq, Siwa, Upper Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and elsewhere in the Middle East. I remember seeing a similar gallery in Amman, Jordan, around visiting Roman-period amphitheaters. Camera flashes are banned in many galleries, so I have only this photo. Also, if you want to visit the galleries on rare manuscripts (YES!!) or another couple subjects you have to pay more, and we didn’t have time to do that then…. Overall, while the rest of the Bibliotheca complex is apparently extremely organized and fancy like the West does fancy, the organization of the galleries (or how we were taken through them) left me confused and feeling haphazard.

p1110580 Another view of the sloping Reading Room, surrounded by the connecting piece of concrete exterior impressed with more human symbols. (Side thought…when rain gathers at the bottom corner, how does it drain out?)

I’ve wanted to take advantage of this library since classes began. I’m a bookworm, get over it, but seriously, I’m out of leisure reading right now. I also have little access to a printer and scanner, something I take for granted as a collections assistant whose Luther College job has largely consisted of digitizing documents. Besides that, every Luther student has access to the Preus Library’s free scan-to-email system…which I need for important documents here. So, I’ve gone over a couple times to the library to figure out the system. To do it right, you buy a ticket (prices differentiate between native and foreign, student and general public), get in line to deposit any excess bags in a locker, walk to the entrance, show the ticket, go through security (which is the toughest I’ve seen in the Middle East outside of airports) to enter the lobby, then go through another round of security measures to enter the Reading Room. When I finally bought my first ticket yesterday, I was turned away from the door because my backpack needed to be checked. I left, frustrated, as the line to deposit bags spilled into the street and wasn’t moving. Apparently many students go straight from the Alexandria University (the gate to the Faculty of Commerce is right across the street) to the Bibliotheca. So, don’t go after class. But, the Bibliotheca opens at 9 Sunday through Thursday. I have class starting at 9 three of those days, and Moutaz had us go to passport control around that time on Wednesday…I admittedly could have gone yesterday, but was prepping ahead of a meeting with my language partner.

I did have time between passport control (we were extending our tourist visas for a several-month residency) and class on Wednesday, but due to a downpour, I got chatted up by an attractive young woman who informed me of a conference going on at the Convention Center. Following her, I checked it out. She was a receptionist for the day! And the conference wasn’t something to ignore – it was a legitimate academic conference. I had stumbled onto the 5th Annual International Conference on Calligraphy, Writing, and Inscriptions! I sat in 5 minutes of a presentation on research concerning the calligraphical forms of Qur’anic verses on Abbasid-era mosques (totally in Arabic, but that’s all from words I picked out from the presentation in context with pictures) until the young woman told me about a session in English. Until a session break, when I left for class, I listened to an Italian researching a Greco-Roman archaeological site that may be also from the Middle Kingdom, a Frenchwoman on astronomical words found in inscriptions at a southern mining site, a couple of Egyptians looking into the linguistic history of names of the Fayoum Oasis during pharaonic periods, and another Italian on the forms of inscriptions found at a central-western desert oasis. I was intrigued by some aspects of the rather esoteric presentations, like the suggestion that mined amethyst is the original reason purple is a royal color, and that deserts have symbolic meanings of death and hidden treasure (my mind connected that to hero myths), and the phonemic connection of Pharaonic Egyptian to Arabic.

Conferences like that are supposedly open to the public, as the entrance was free, and I passed through just by registering my phone number, address, and email. However, a couple elements make me think they’re not open to the public – one large reason is that I saw and heard no advertisement for this event, that should have an impact on Egyptians’ lives. Alexandrians live easily within incredible sources of knowledge, if more people had known about the conference. Another big reason the conference wasn’t open: all presentations were similar to the dry accounts I associate with peer-review journal articles. They were meant for the erudite academic community (though I know enough to understand the vast gist of the presentations and find some interest in them). Last night I listened to a TED podcast on “Talk Nerdy to Me” from a communications prof trying to bridge the gap between jargon-filled, dry presentations seemingly required as part of the scientific process and the incredible thought processes of engineers and scientists. This prof was astounded by the passion, the intellects, and the creative thinking going on behind the outward stereotype of inaccessible scientific talk. She had some great points – look it up on!

The nature of this session’s academic presentations and format was natural to me, as an attendee to senior project presentations at Luther College. Several rows in front of me was a middle-aged Egyptian man dressed not as an academic – every other man in the room had on a suit. This man had questions for the first Italian presenter, and verbally fought with the session’s moderator to get time to ask everything on his mind. The format of an academic conference seemed alien to this man, and expectations of sifting through thoughts to pick the most pertinent and important one or two per person had not been communicated to him. When finally given a chance to ask, he started in as most Egyptians do during a conversation: with gratitude and greetings. Neither have a place within this format of academic conversation. Watching this unfold, I realized more than ever the difference between academia and the real world. Regardless of whether this man was educated beyond high school, he’d come to learn, but was shoved aside because he didn’t fit within the format. I’m not sure I am fully alright with that situation.

Beyond an overview of this admittedly impressive complex (and the Convention Center had the most comfy auditorium chairs I’ve ever sat in!), now you have insight into something that tickled my thoughts the last couple days. Also, some of my favorite professors and teachers have spent a lot of time getting me to see the beauty of simple language when I saw plain speech as simply dumbed down. A huge belated thank you to Mrs. Mallen, Mr. Dye, Mrs. Niccum, Professor Rue, Prof Moore, Jenny, and Mom.


October 6th, 2012

Time October 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For anyone paying attention to the international news around early October, 1973, probably something came across their radar screens concerning a military move on Egypt’s part to win back the Sinai Peninsula from Israel. October 6th is a revered day; there is a road and bridge in Cairo named literally after the day (in the official Gregorian calendar). President Morsi, to recognize the day’s significance, visited the peninsula and spoke, as per official decorum. I could have gone to the Corniche to see the naval fleet that is housed in Alexandria on display, according to Moutaz. Many news sites posted op-eds about the significance of October 6th, 1973, and its relevance today.

Instead of going out and seeing Egypt’s military celebration, I stayed inside my apartment nearly the entire day; the exception was going to the balcony to witness the rain, as I’m sure you all have read. I feel the necessity to explain my choice – enter this post.

I stayed in because of the following reasons, posted in order of actual importance (ideally I would’ve put the second first…):

1. I had a lot of stimulating homework to do (and still have, actually), mostly for PSM and ICH. My work ethic requires me to get that finished before allowing myself to go out and about, but I did give myself a yoga break and a couple food breaks. :) I also had been out with Ben for a couple hours the previous day – before homework was done! – and the ensuing realization of how bad an idea that was in the face of our upcoming excursion to Ayna Soghna this weekend made me pause before going out again.

2. October 6th is a day to recognize military achievements, and I’m realizing more and more how dedicated a pacifist I am. I draw the line for acceptable violence at fantasy books, noodle wars (or such silliness), cardboard-weapon Medieval fights, and skilled wrestling. And, because the world revolves around economic factors, I chose to spend no money in an effort to vote no to power based on the military. Was my day-long boycott recognized? Heck no. But I felt good about it…and I had no need of things outside my apartment.



Time October 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“Raining on Oct. 6th!”

 Um. It rained today! What?! I was so astonished, I ran to tell Jeanette, and we both went out on the balcony.

I took the opportunity to sweep the balcony cleaner, since I don’t think I can get it totally clean until I douse the entire thing in water. (Pollution post coming, I promise!)


Urbanization’s Concrete Form

Time October 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

The electricity went out twice last night (Thursday). Again. We found our apartments furnished, besides the normal furniture, with rechargeable LED lights that put out a ton of watts, or so it feels. Both Jeanette and I have flashlights (my headlamp is readily recognizable by many college peers, as I’ve worn it around my dorm at night so as to not disturb my roommate). Ben and Brannon gave us grief for our phones, which have flashlights embedded in them, but those flashlights have come in mighty handy, now five times. Plus all the times when there’s no light on our floor and we must unlock the door. Yet I don’t complain. I have a couple hunches as to the reason behind the electric outages, and I don’t mind them – darkness makes sleep far more appealing!

Like many places that boast over a couple million inhabitants in a relatively small area, Alexandria had better be called an urban metropolis, attracting newcomers demanding fair access to the same utilities, including a place to stay. I’m from a country where the ideal place to stay is a house, but I currently reside in a city where the ideal is an apartment. I remember in Turkey being interested in the number of high-rise apartment buildings that seemed really out of place in Ankara. Looking back, I remember Istanbul as a city of historical-seeming high-rise apartments, but they were short compared to the new buildings in Ankara. Our host supper in Ankara was in an apartment building (sorry, but the translation binaa’ shaqat – شقة بناء – keeps floating through my head), reflecting the new trend of sophisticates moving to apartments rather than houses. It makes sense when you look at the situation through an sustainability-oriented lens: pack as many people into a small space on the Earth’s crust as air is free, sharing utilities (sort of, we’ll get there hopefully) and living with a far less impact (ideally) than those residing in a house. However, I leave out the issue of trash – that’s another blog post in of itself.

So, Alexandria is in something like the middle of a construction boom, in the area of apartments. (Cairo featured a number of seemingly vacant apartment buildings, but also had construction.) Not so much in the housing construction business here, I’m afraid. The construction process has been interesting to watch, on the number of building projects that litter my walk to the tram, and to hear about, Moutaz giving a short lecture on the topic during orientation. There’s little enforcement in the way of OSHA standards, but what’s new in a developing country. What’s scary for the new inhabitants is that there’s been little enforcement in building materials’ structural integrity; by which I mean until the recent past, the police/oversight enforcers didn’t check on the width of supporting beams’ concrete. There have been some new high-rises that collapsed after construction, though I don’t have numbers to give you. Understandably, the police are cracking down on this. (And, my building was built with the necessary check-ups – no worries!)

 This is one of three construction projects I can see from my apartment. As I recall, this project was a hole in the ground when we arrived. Obviously, it is no longer just a hole in the ground.

 I think this project is nearing completion. Even on Fridays (when everyone else is off) I see workers walking around on top. If you look closely, you can see their minute forms. Also note the many balcony spaces – many new constructions seem to be bristling with balconies.

 This project is still very short compared to the buildings around it. I do not understand (mish faahma) the reasoning behind the smaller ‘nub’ at the top – does this mean the apartments will stop at that height? We’ll find out!

And, buildings are constructed with concrete, not US Steel I-beams, raised by tall iconic cranes and couched in place until completion by a bubble of steel scaffolding. Au contraire! By observation, buildings are built almost the same way the Romans (yes, those ancient Latins) would’ve built, except instead of just concrete and brick, reinforcement rod is placed extensively among the concrete. The projects are cordoned off from streets, just like in the States for safety, but that safety bubble extends to the street (if that far – maybe 1.5 m), while sand used to make concrete seeps from under the safety signage. Scaffolding is made of wood bound by rope; yet it seems incredibly stable for seemingly old wood. The safety signage is usually placed just under the farthest-out tip of scaffolding tie, with some wood sticking further out. Beware, passersby! Instead of using ladders or cranes to hoist people to working height, I witnessed three men using a pulley system and fraying rope to lift a basket with a man inside to the level he required. I cannot speak for the rest of the construction workers, however.

Note: there are construction of villas going on that I pass en route to the tram, featuring painting, wiring, concrete pouring and molding, etc, but I do not know if such projects extend past the wealthy district in which our apartments reside. But these villas (for they should be called as such) seem sumptuous from the outside!

 This is a relatively new, and huge, apartment building near the Alexandria University Faculty of Medicine campus. As buildings constructed as wide as this are relatively rare, I wonder if this is the model construction will be moving to if enough ground surface area opens up. It looks more Western, don’t you think?

 Last note on concrete: concrete cubes line the Corniche’s sea side, perhaps as a giant sea wall attempting to manage both the erosion due to wave action (the Corniche is immediately above the sea, and erosion would be catastrophic) and to prevent huge waves crashing over the Corniche in winter storms that I’ve heard about. There are areas along the Corniche that feature large versions of childhood toys, like these blocks, jumbled together and extending into the sea. I don’t get the purpose of these beyond breaking up wave lines, but they make great playgrounds, and I hid among one such set (this one) to watch the sunset by myself. Over at Montaza Palace, there are many more such jumbled blocks supporting the sea wall, and I hear that the original bridge to Pharos was built, and maintained and expanded, out of just these sorts of blocks.


Update on me: medically this week has been wacked – I began the week on Saturday with lots of sleep and potentially flu, left classes early on Sunday to sleep, and Monday feeling improved but exhausted after a long day. Tuesday was a definite upswing, even getting a chance to Skype my good friend Meg in the midst of a tough week for us both. By Wednesday, though, I felt so good I was ready for the weekend! Mind you, I’m still on ibuprofen daily and allergy meds (basically Zyrtec) twice a day. I’ve spent a lot of mental space and time communicating to family, friends, and with a couple of really helpful doctors that I know. Their support has been incredibly helpful in processing my next steps. I know that yesterday felt ok to be off ibuprofen – but after slacklining, I enjoyed the luxury today. I didn’t get my allergy meds in on time tonight, so I know that my body’s not ready to be anti-histimine free yet…I itch. But it was an accidental good check.

Academic: classes are definitely fun. I’m a tad bored in my Arabic classes, getting the concepts we’re discussing usually by the first hour, though we might spend the second hour on it as well. Time management is also an issue in my electives, but those I have no worries – I could use more time discussing our topics. Islamic Culture and History (hereafter I’m using the acronym ICH) is incredibly stimulating, synthesizing politics, history, societal/cultural nuances of both yesteryear and today, and bringing up a host of issues about society, religion (if there should be such a separate category), boundaries between everything, politics, powermongering, etc. Whew! Politics and Social Media (hereafter PSM) worked through some testimonies, highlighting their similarities and differences (that was fascinating, to see results of eyewitnesses’ emotions come through their stories), and searching through the stories to question the official story. My language partner meetings are fun, albeit tough, as I have no one but me to count on for the answer. I’m learning more than I realize through emphasis in class and in meetings. I wish I could actually carry on a conversation with native Egyptians outside the class beyond the initial greetings (like Ents, Egyptians don’t hurry their greetings and social connection points), but that’s ok.

Last point: Brannon, a outdoorsman missing his outdoors, finally ran the gauntlet of slacklining in the nearby British Gardens, which fronts the British Embassy (sidenote: when taxis drop us off there, we totally pass as British!). The first time he put it up, I went with for moral support, and to try it out myself. I’ve attempted slacklining a couple times at Luther, through Outdoor Rec, but have never been comfortable enough to spend the time to master the wiggling line. I have since walked two steps before falling off and mounted the line independently and fully once…though I immediately fell off from sheer astonishment. I love the focus necessary to slackline – it really empties the mind. And it’s a physical challenge too – I feel the stretch in my mounting leg and the ache of lazy obliques. My goal for the semester? Walk ten feet. And, as for the Egyptian reaction, we draw a crowd, Ben, Brannon, and I; Brannon uses that crowd as impetus to show off. Ben and I helped a couple of small children Wednesday night try it out themselves, and they loved it. Everyone wants to touch the line, see someone walk it, and marvel over the contraption. It’s really fun, though concentrating when I see people chatting about me is difficult. I can’t help but want to do it more, independently, and see myself working on slacklining at the edge of the forest on the far side of Baker Prairie at Luther. That will come, but until then, I will practice in Egypt!


Eyewitness to History

Time October 1st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Class just started this week for the majority of the student population of Alexandria University. Last month, the professors were given a salary raise to what has been termed “a decent wage” by some of our teachers. The non-professorial staff, however, has not seen a similar salary increase, though their current wages leave much to be desired. As such, they are miffed, for a polite word, and acting upon that sense of miffed-ness. According to one prof, since the Revolution anytime anyone sees their rights infringed, protests erupt. Yes, there are protests in Alexandria. No, the intention behind the demonstrations has nothing to do with that horrid YouTube trailer – the university’s employees want a fair wage, and they’re willing to go on strike. Loudly. Emphatically. During class. Here’s one taste – the largest procession of demonstrators during one of IFSA’s classes’ breaks on Monday – perhaps 10:00 am or so.

Nurses Join the Protest Nurses (presumably from the nearby medical campus) joined the demonstration as well.

Demonstrators Move On Demonstrators, having built their crowd, walk around the corner of one building and on their way to the headquarters.

The demonstrators walk through campus, to the Corniche, and work their way to the headquarters of the university administration, shout there for a bit, then make the rounds again. I’d say they’re getting attention. Whether the administration will do something, like bend to the people’s will, remains to be seen.


Medical update: Thursday afternoon I went to another doctor to see if I could get my itchy/swelling leg problem figured out. I spent LE 72 to tell this guy that I’ve been in Egypt for 3 weeks and to get a prescription of 4 meds (my total bill thus becoming nearly LE 200!), all of which turned out to be your average OTC anti-histimines. Really?! I could’ve walked into a pharmacy and bought anti-histimines on my own, saving me the trouble of A) finding the doctor’s office, B) wasting the LE 72, and C) wasting Moutaz’s time! So, upshot is that, once again, I’m frustrated with my environment’s medical system. My friends know that fall semesters are not my favorite…last year’s fall I sprained four fingers and my childhood home burned down, plus I got the flu twice. I wasn’t a super sickly child…so why am I sick now?


Arabic to the Rescue?

Time September 25th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So, what Arabic I’ve learned so far has helped in more ways than one. Yes, there are the random conversations you have on the Corniche or other really busy (zahmat is the adjective in ECA) streets, or when talking to shopkeepers, but I had a couple of adventures on Saturday that enforced the good of learning Arabic, especially ECA. If you read past the adventure stories, I have a couple of updates.

So, I went for a tram ride on Saturday. I am slightly frustrated that I, an officer of Luther College’s very own Classical Society (and potentially of the Classics department’s Honor Society, I can’t remember), am living in one of the premier Classical Hellenistic cities and have not seen the catacombs, any authentic Greco-Roman architecture, or Fort Qaitbey. (The fort itself is actually a product of the Islamic period, but it stands directly over the spot where the Pharos Lighthouse used to sit.) What is wrong with this picture?! Anyway, many of these landmarks are to the western end of the city. Also, it costs $0.04 to ride the tram anywhere, so I grabbed a seat. To my dismay, the tramline ends before I even get to the peninsula jutting to Pharos Island – I would have to go farther west to find the landmarks.

 A composite image of the western shore of the Eastern Harbor (3 images). I was sitting on a wall nearly four feet thick and a good three feet high.

Instead, I found myself less than a block from the Corniche. OK, I’ll go walk around there, maybe find lunch, and come back to the tram with enough time to Skype Mom and Dad at 4 pm. It was then 11 am or so. After chatting amiably with a couple groups of young men, I decided it was probably a good idea to avoid heckling or any potential harassment by heading back to the tram. On the way, a very dark-skinned man in his 30s or so with enormous dreadlocks kind of attached himself to me, especially when he found out that I was heading to the tram. I think he heard “train.” French was his first language, his second was somewhat broken English – and here I’d begun the conversation in Arabic! Turned out that he was kind of lost, and needed to get to Ramleh Train Station (which is the west end of the tram line, as it turns out) to go to Cairo. As a native of the Central African Republic of Cameroon, he didn’t speak Arabic, and saw me as able to help him. After asking around for Ramleh Station (I mainly got blank stares, and I still don’t know the ECA word for ‘station’), I called Moutaz and got the man straightened out and sent on his way.

  Views of buildings near the end of the tram line. The air around the mosque was alive with the midday call to prayer streaming from the speakers attached to the minaret. There is some possibility that this mosque and surrounding area was the site of some intense protesting during the Revolution.

I went to TAFL next (a 10 min ride) to explain to Moutaz what exactly had happened, and in the process of explaining around Moutaz’s hectic work locations, ended up becoming an “Egyptian tour guide.” Moutaz ran around TAFL more than normal when a new student arrived, and a young man, with mother in tow, had just arrived from the Republic of Georgia. He spoke Russian and Georgian, and she spoke those two with a bare amount of English. And his landlord for the next year was set to meet them at the British Embassy garden, a total of 5 minutes walk from my apartment. So, I helped where I could – which amounted to answering less than half the questions posed to me by his mother, since they very easily called a taxi and established the payment amount. I did, however, have to tell them which building was the Embassy; otherwise, they were pretty self-sufficient. Sweet!


Medical update: according to doctor’s commands, I’m weaning myself off the anti-inflammatory drugs to test if the polyarthritis flare-up has gone away. So far so good with all joints except my neck. I’m beginning to believe that the meds were simply a stop-gap measure, as anti-inflammatory drugs hitting the symptoms but not the underlying issue. I will, of course, continue to monitor the situation. But, my blood test results say my blood contents are completely normal!

However, the next medical stumble is that I seem to be allergic to something – I am experiencing swollen lower legs and itchy skin similar to a couple episodes of hives seven years ago. The times I got hives, I had imbibed more fake sugar, sucralose, than my body could tolerate – and that amount was nothing substantial. I have no idea what set off the allergic reaction this time, but I’m attempting to keep the reaction under control with allergy meds I brought.


One last update: a friend requested I keep track of the names that are flung in my direction, since I returned from Turkey and Jordan with a pretty substantial list. Well, Sam, here’s the beginning: sweetie, lady, beautiful, honey (both the Arabic “3asl” and English), and Ben’s wife. The last is a new one, given to me by a middle-school aged kid on the tram yesterday; I guess it seemed logical given that Ben and I were the only foreigners on the tram car.

On that amusing note, I bid all readers a wonderful day!