Sunday, January 31, 2010

Laundry - Public Enemey Number One

Several days ago I did laundry--sort of. I decided to wash jeans and my fleece. I turned the dial to cotton and selected the number of spins and water temperature. Next I added the laundry detergent and pressed start. Simple, right?

My first problem was the water. It wouldn't go into the machine. Fortunately, a member of the housekeeping staff showed me how to open the lever attached to the pipe on the wall. Problem solved. An hour and a half later, my clothes had been cleaned. At that point, I realized that the temperatures on the washer were in degrees Celsius. I had just washed my jeans in 100-degree water, so I hung them up in my room to dry so that they wouldn't shrink.

Then I put in a load of darks and remembered to use cold water. I selected a different spin setting just out of curiosity. Also, I used the quick wash option so that it would take half an hour instead of an hour and a half. While the washer cleaned my clothes, I went to the first floor to check out the dryer. I opened it, and three inches of water were in the bottom. Fail. I had to hang all of my darks around my room too, but it wasn't warm enough to actually dry them. I improvised and used my heater.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


On Friday I got up close and personal with the pyramids. Before we got off of the bus, I saw a man behaving very strangely. It wasn't until the bus got closer that I realized he was having a seizure. He appeared to be an Egyptian. It was so difficult to watch. I was frustrated because the police didn't do anything. Even his friends seemed unable to do anything for him. I hope that he survived.

On a happier note, I went inside one of the pyramids; granted, the inside was a bit of a let-down. I was expecting to see some artifacts, but we ended up in an empty chamber. There was a sarcophagus, but I imagine that it was a replica. Either way, I still went inside of a pyramid, and most people can't say that.

The pyramids are so much taller than I expected, and the blocks of limestone that the pyramids are made from are absolutely huge. Surprisingly, being at the pyramids didn't feel surreal. I don't recall being blown away by the experience. I think that being in Egypt feels so normal and natural. Of course I'm meant to be in Egypt at this point in my life, so of course I'm at the pyramids. Perhaps this is a part of culture shock? Random comment, but there were no climbing signs on the pyramids, and people were climbing them up to a certain point. I didn't get the chance because our tour guide moved too quickly. Perhaps I'll return.

Before enterting the pyramid, a vendor greeted me and another student, Drew. The vendor gave him souvenirs that he claimed were for free, and he also gave me a small blue scarab bead. The vendor assumed that I was the other student's girlfriend, which was amusing. He also called me an American rose, not realizing that I am one! Caitlin Rose.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bedouin Night aka Football Dance Party

For the record, Bedouins are former nomads that live in the desert, and there are a bunch of different tribes. Last night was Bedouin Night, and it was also the night that Egypt and Algeria faced off in a football match. This game was a huge deal. The Algerian Embassy is right down the street, so I'm really glad that Egypt won. It plays Ghana on Sunday.

We watched the entire game in a large, open tent with pillows and rugs on the ground. There were hot coals, shisha, food, and drink. In front of everyone was a projector and a screen. The Egyptians love football. Shanna mentioned that she enjoys watching them watch the game. I agree. When Egypt scored, everyone got up and cheered. Some people danced!

Egypt ended up winning 4-0. When the game ended, the Egyptians broke into dance. It was one of the most intense and beautiful expressions of joy that I have ever witnessed. The Americans eventually took over the dance party, complete with a couple camels and a horse. After the game people were honking their horns and flying flags. Football seems to be closer to everyone's heart than politics, money, etc.

Afterwards we watched another performance that was similar to the one on the cruise. The whirling dervish was much better!

Lost in Zamalek

On Thursday morning I went to campus to find my classes. It sounds simpler than it actually was, but I eventually figured it out. Afterwards, I took a bus downtown with Phil and Drew. We walked--actually, I walked and they strolled through the streets. While we were downtown, I tried some freshly squeezed orange juice, and it was delicious! We eventually crossed a bridge back to Zamalek, and it turned out that we were on the southern-most end of the island.

After a few more hours, it began to get dark, and we ended up taking a taxi back to the dormitory. Aisha and Dalia, two Egyptian students, told us that it should only cost us five pounds to go from the Cairo Opera House to the dormitory. I handed the driver five pounds, and he got all angry. He got out of the cab and everything. We eventually gave him more money to shut him up, but we got ripped off. I won't be taking another taxi any time soon. I realize that we still only paid three dollars for a fifteen-minute ride, but the idea behind it bothers me. I don't want to be significantly overcharged because I'm a foreigner.

Cruising the Nile

On Wednesday night, I was on a Nile cruise. Our boat was called the Memphis. Honestly, the cruise was mediocre, if that. The entertainment wasn't fantastic; although, the whirling dervish was certainly cool. I thought that the belly dancer was past her prime. The biggest killer for me was the food. It was cold and not tasty. The most annoying part is that drinks aren't served until after you're eating, and they charged for water! I would not recommend this trip to anyone.

Exploring Downtown Cairo

On Wednesday morning I ventured over the 26th of July Bridge with Drew, another student, and we explored the downtown area north of Tahrir Square. When I was with Elena the day before, I didn't want to walk into this area because it seemed poorer and that made me feel uneasy. It's somewhat sexist, but I felt more at ease walking with a guy.

My initial fears were completely unfounded. I walked through somewhat sketchy areas, but no one made any passes at me. Sure, people tried to get our attention, but no one hassled us. We walked through a bazaar of car parts and then an open-air market with rack after rack of clothing. I would like to go back there to do some shopping. Oh! We successfully bought koushary for three pounds each!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Horseback Riding After Dark

Last night I went horseback riding under the stars. At first I felt bad because some of the horses, including mine, were a bit on the skinny side. I was annoyed because a man held onto my horse's reins instead of letting me control the horse. Finally another Egyptian man that spoke some English was able to translate for me. My horse went from the back of the group to the front with one other student, Ryan. He pointed out Orion's Belt.

The pyramids were so far away. I could see them, but I was disappointed. I thought that we were going to be right next to them instead of miles away. I quickly learned that my horse responded to the verbal commands of the Egyptian men. My horse took off galloping! It was such an adrenaline rush. I eventually got him under control, but I really wasn't ready for that. I joined the first group, and left my group behind in the dust. My horse galloped some more, and riding was a thrill, but at the same time, I was sad about the state of the horses and disgusted by the trash on the ground.

A Trip to Campus and Downtown

On Tuesday I returned to campus in order to get an email account, apply for a residence visa, and buy a bus pass. The bus ride was significantly shorter. We left at 9:30am, and it only took us about 45 minutes to arrive.

After I ran around campus getting things done, I took a bus to Tahrir Square with Elena. We neandered around and bought some shawerma. We also practiced our skills at crossing the street, and I think that this should become an Olympic sport. Phil compared crossing the street to Frogger, and honestly, I feel like a champ every time I make it to the other side of the street in one piece. I've learned that you just have to be confident. When you decide you're going to cross, you go without looking back.

I've taken to walking in the streets. The Egyptians do it, and it just feels natural. The sidewalks are littered with debris, potholes, and animal feces. I stepped in cat shit a couple of days ago. That was the turning point for me.

Back to yesterday, Elena and I actually walked from Tahrir Square, or downtown, back to Zamalek, but not before we enjoyed some shawerma at a place named Canary. We also walked along the Nile. We got lost a couple of times, but we managed. I asked a security guard about al jaami'a amreekeyya, and Elena mentioned Mohamed Thakeb Street, so between the two of us, we communicated where we needed to go.

The food at the dormitory's cafeteria is overpriced, bland, and sometimes cold. I won't eat there anymore. I went to the Metro Market and bought some bread and water, and I also go some bananas from a vendor. I paid 5 pounds per kilo. I'm not sure if that was too much, but I bought half a kilo. I actually went to the Metro Market alone last night, and while I felt somewhat uneasy because I hadn't walked around alone at night, I didn't feel unsafe at all.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Old Cairo

Yesterday I went on a trip to Old Cairo, or Coptic Cairo. The tour guide had a good sense of humor. First, we went to the Hanging Church. It's one of the oldest churches in Egypt, and it was built over part of the Babylon Fortress. Next we went to the Church of Saint George, and then we visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Photos weren't allowed, but some students took them anyway. One of our group leaders, Aisha, got into an argument with the man while we made ourselves scarce. He eventually apologized, but we all felt somewhat awkward. I don't understand why the students didn't just obey the signs in the first place.

I went into a mosque for the first time. The Mosque of Amr was the first one in Africa, but like all of the other religious buildings, it had been rebuilt or expanded several times. I was glad that I had a jacket with a hood to cover my head. Some girls ended up wearing what looked like green Harry Potter robes or green KKK costumes. I really need to invest in a scarf or some sort of wrap to cover my head because I'm not sure how often they wash the green rent-a-cloths.

The tourguide spent awhile going over polygamy in Islam. Honestly, that was a waste of time because I don't think that anyone cares. It's just an alternative lifestyle, and I can see how it benefitted men and women in the past. I would be okay with it if women were free to have four husbands.

Honestly, I didn't care for the buildings. Sure, they're old, but only small pieces of them. Also, whoever attempted to restore the religious buildings had no idea what they were doing. They added modern things to the buildings and made it so obvious. It really ruined it for me because nothing felt historical.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Into the Desert

Yesterday I went to the campus, and it is really in the middle of the desert. I took the 12:30pm bus, which wasn't a good idea because it was rush hour. It took us an hour and a half to get to the campus. When you got out of the city, the amount of dust in the air was uncomfortable. You could feel it in your nose and throat when you breathed. There is so much construction going on outside the new campus, but it looks like some buildings have been left half-finished. The good thing about bus rides is meeting people.

I got my ID card, some cash, and lunch, but that was about it. The orientation people decided to close up a couple hours early, so I didn't accomplish too much. I'm going back tomorrow morning on the 9:30am bus to take care of a few things. Anyway, the campus is beautiful. Even though only 5,000 students attend it, it's huge! There are a lot of Western food places on campus, but we ate at a pseudo-Egyptian food place. I ate koushary and falafel. It was good, but koushary is a heavy meal.

The bus ride back took another hour and a half, but I didn't mind too much. The bus was larger, so I could see better. Cairo is so interesting. It's dominant colors are brown and grey. It's dirty and polluted and dotted with bright laundry. There are piles of rubble all over the place, but even the shabbiest buildings appear to have air conditioners. It's beautiful in its own sort of way.

Khan El Khalili

We arrived at the dormitory around 7:00pm, an hour before a trip to Khan El Khalili, a famous bazaar, or souk. I basically tossed my suitcase into my room and joined the group of people going on the trip.

You really can smell the spices! I loved all of the brightly colored women's clothing and shiny jewelry and trinkets. Beyond that, I didn't really like it there. There was trash all over the ground. The vendors were extremely pushy, except for the women. If I ever go back, I will try to only buy from women. The Egyptian men try to get your attention by hissing; saying psst; or calling you Julia Roberts, Shakira, or Catherine Zeta Jones. My friend, Chelsea, was asked if she would like an Egyptian husband! It's funny at first, but it does get annoying fast. The vendors are extremely pushy. They need some serious customer service training.

I felt like I was prepared. I avoided making eye contact with the men and ignored them. Eye contact and smiling can be flirty, I think. Also, the key is to not buy anything until you know what something should cost. Despite its drawbacks, I would like to return when I'm more confident and know what I want to buy.

That's a Wrap

Before I had a boarding pass with a seat on it, I was bargaining with myself. I would have sat next to two screaming babies without complaining if it guaranteed me a seat. Guess who I ended up sitting with. That's right--baby Omar. I was so pleased to actually be on the plane that I helped entertain him so that he wouldn't cry. I swear that I'm not lying! I tickled his toes, smiled at him, and talked to him.

After an eleven-hour flight, the plane landed in Cairo. I found my luggage and the driver, and then I used the ATM. There were about fifteen AUC students on the plane, and it took at least an hour to wait for everyone to get their visas. I got mine ahead of time, and it made my life easier. Another student, Phil, actually got his student residence visa beforehand, and I would highly recommend this because it is less expensive and more convenient.

I was impressed that we all fit into a minibus with our luggage. Two random men helped the driver load the luggage, and afterwards they asked for baksheesh, or a tip. They were persistent, and I think that it made all of us feel awkard. I gave one of them a dollar, and another student gave the other one some Egyptian pounds.

The ride to the Zamalek dormitory took at least another hour. The traffic is really bad in Cairo, but the driving isn't as crazy as I thought that it would be. Yes, drivers honk a lot to communicate and they ignore the lines, but there seem to be some unwritten driving guidelines that most drivers follow.

Cairo-Bound Take Two

My second attempt to get to Cairo almost failed too. I made it from Boston to JFK, but I wasn't sure if I actually had a seat on the flight to Cairo. I only had a seat request. I was nervous because I heard that the Delta staff was offering to compensate people if they gave up their seats.

I eventually found out that I was guaranteed a seat because I was confirmed passenger, but when I handed one of the men at the gate my seat request, he told me that it wasn't valid because my paper ticket's AirFrance stamp was extremely faint. If the other man at the gate hadn't said that it was fine, I would have lost my sanity.

Cairo-Bound Take One

At first it felt like I had never left home--because I hadn't. I had originally intended to fly to Cairo via Paris on the 21st, but the flight was canceled because the plane's PA system didn't work. When AirFrance made the announcement, I scrambled to procure another seat, find my luggage, and get home from the airport. Thank goodness my parents helped me in the wee hours of the morning.

Believe it or not, sitting in Logan Airport for nine hours wasn't that bad. I sat near several Frenchmen, and contrary to popular belief, they were friendly and humorous. After the AirFrance staff announced that they would update us in another hour, one Frenchman exclaimed, "Vive la France!" Then he swore and asked me to please excuse his French. I also met a seasoned traveler from Portugal and a professor at Boston University who was traveling to the American University in Cairo too.