My time in Egypt has been interesting in so many ways. I finally experienced what a true language barrier feels like. I was pretty confident with my Arabic abilities. I mean, I was top of my language class and I had a wide repertoire - like basic greetings, vocabulary to discuss the current nuclear situation in Iran, and I could tell you all about famous Arabs in history. That should have been a good start at least, right? Wrong. I was horrified when I couldn't communicate with the cleaning ladies to tell them that Wednesday mornings worked best for them to change my sheets. But little by little I could carry on complete conversations with taxi drivers and shop owners and soon enough I was having passing conversations with people in the Cairo airport and at museums without them knowing that I wasn't a native speaker. I've been inside 4 pyramids, I've seen both the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and I got to travel to Turkey and Scotland on the side. I'll miss being afraid for my life while in a taxi maneuvering around city traffic. I'll miss being assaulted by the sights of city lights and the colors of store fronts and the smells of kebob and shisha smoke from sidewalk cafes. I'll miss the Nile. But most of all I'll miss going out with friends and dancing and talking and laughing until well after sunrise the next morning.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Taken from my friend Kacie, here is a screencap of the weather in Cairo today. That's right, sand. Did you know that sand could be a valid report of the weather? Well, it is.
I've been terrible about chronicling my adventures lately, but after I've wrapped up exams and recovered from a horrendous flu, I will definitely catch it all up. Then it's only a few days until India!
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Tell al-Farama is located in Northeast Egypt, next to the Mediterranean coast. It was the first place for visitors and invaders to Egypt to arrive at, from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar. My professor told us not to expect grandeur, but even so I thought it was amazing. It looked like a Greek ghost town, abandoned by a people long ago that decided to make plans and split. The sand is soft and comfortable and there are seashells scattered about from the residing sea tides, with faded corinthian pillars lying humbly where they first fell. It's literally in the middle of nowhere and I was caught off guard by how unaccustomed I was to the sound of silence. Farama was a major fishing port so they were a big fishery, indicative of the thousand-year-old pottery shards covering the ground. On our way back we caught the sunset at the Suez Canal when the ships were coming into the ports.
My day to Dashur and Saqqara was one of the most beautiful I've experienced. We wandered through the deserts and crawled into pyramids all day, looking for graffiti carved by previous visitors like Napoleon. My 5'1" feisty ninja professor further proved that she is a badass by removing a snake from the Red Pyramid and tossing it over the side of the pyramid, as I hummed the Indiana Jones theme song. The sky was so blue and the clouds looked like we could touch them if we climbed up to the tip of the pyramids, until a black storm rolled over the deserts and a thunderstorm covered the greater Nile Delta area, cooling everything down and clearing the air. "Seth has brought us rain," said our professor. As we drove past neighboring villages, children in the fields danced in the mud while farmers ran for cover, the crops looking so green and the flowers looking so happy. I woke up this morning completely sore from scurrying down dark pyramidal pathways, but bemused that I had just witnessed the ancient monuments I had only previously seen in textbooks.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Hey, all! I finally got around to uploading pictures of my recent adventures a little while ago, and the following is a public link for you to look at them.
And here's Turkey:
Friday, October 2, 2009
I knew that my five-plus year adoration of Turkey would be legitimized the moment our taxi from the airport started weaving up the steep, winding cobblestone streets of Istanbul last week. I've read a lot about the identity crisis of the Turkish people - whether they felt more European or more Asian. And now that I've visited, I completely understand how difficult it is to put it all into words. The adorable narrow cobblestone streets remind me of Switzerland, the window flower boxes of France, and the little markets lining the piers of the cerulean Sea of Marmara are reminiscent of Greece. Then while you're strolling past little cheese shops in the early afternoon the sound of the shopkeepers hassling customers is drowned out by the call to prayer ringing out around you from three different mosques on each street corner. Though we had a full week to see as much as we possibly could, it was clear that we could probably just sit in a park all day and still be able to experience the sheer beauty of the city.
Saturday we hit up the historical sites nearby, our method of transit via walking or taking the extremely efficient city tram that cuts right through the middle of main streets. Topkapi Palace lies hidden between Istanbul's little roads and a beautiful park walkway with red tulips and kittens frolicking in the dewy grass. The amount of rubies and emeralds decorating the past Ottoman sultans' treasuries is phenomenal. After seeing vials containing "the beard of Prophet Muhammad", we visited the Hagia Sophia mosque - the biggest cathedral at the time built by Justinian which was later converted into a mosque. I could have sat on the ground and stared up at the ceiling, the floral paintings, and the Byzantine mosaics for hours. I also think that the guy who sings the call to prayer at the Hagia Sophia sounds better than the four others in the surrounding block. Afterwards was the Blue Mosque, which still functions as a practicing mosque today. The walls and arches are all painted in blues, whites, greens, and corals like porcelain and on the opposite side of the building you can see the silhouettes of men praying towards tall glass windows facing the sun and the sea beyond. We ended our perfect day with ice cream by the big fountain in the park between the two mosques while the sun started to make its descent.
Sunday we headed to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where each stall has crates and bushels filled with different spices, dried fruit and nuts, and teas. Sellers carve off Turkish Delight for you to try or hold up scoops of apple tea for you to smell. The vibrant colors of cumin and coriander and things I've never heard of overwhelm in the best way possible, and old men are constantly squeezing around passerby with a tray full of tea to deliver to patrons and customers. We grabbed some corn on the cob (a popular Turkish street vending item) and walked up the pier along the Bosphorus, getting assaulted by smells wafting from the fish market nearby. After discovering the most delicious (and the cheapest) chicken kebob sandwich, we rested our tired heads and our aching feet. There's a big different between Egyptians and Turkish people when it comes to prime activity hours; while Egyptians are nocturnal, Turks tend to close shop around 11 PM or midnight. The biggest difference by far is the weather. I don't know what Turkish summers are like, but the Autumn here is beautiful. It was in the 70's all week and there is always a divine, cool breeze sweeping off the coast with seagulls flapping above head. At one point, it started raining and we were all very confused. "What is this wet stuff falling from above?" "Is it...raining?" It doesn't rain in Egypt.
I saved most of my money for the famed Grand Bazaar, which has around 414 stores inside a covered market selling all kinds of things - amber jewelry, tea sets, Turkish clothing, embroidered slippers - everything, really. The Turks don't haggle very well, whereas in Egypt the sellers run after you to cut their prices down by half in their desperation for a customer. Turks barely budge. After the Bazaar, Cheyenne and I dropped Sarah and Alison off at their hotel to bid them adieu in light of their trip out of Istanbul to Athens, and got some ice cream to sit in our usual park for the rest of the afternoon to people watch. It's so beautiful to see small Turkish families, young kids rendezvousing, and little old men shuffling around the fountain. We gawked at sweet children and eavesdropped on a rant from an angry man complaining about his life in Arabic (we think he got fired from his job and was upset about still having to provide for his son and his inability to buy a car now) until the sun went down and it got chilly. We grabbed a chicken kebob sandwich from our old man vendor friend and laughed with each other even though we couldn't really understand one another. We then walked over to the palace sector and had hot chocolate and mint shisha while playing a rousing game of chess at an adorable café (I won). On our way back through the cool evening, a weird old man with a bunny stand stopped us so we could pet the baby bunnies while the mommy bunny picked us out our fortunes. Mine was: You are not a bad person but your destiny is heavy so you are the enemy of yourself...you are trying to prove yourself...but you are not so successful...you know what's your target but there are so much barrier infront of you...
Best 1 lira I've ever spent. I love Istanbul.
Tuesday we spent the day across the European side of the city and greeted the morning by visiting the Galata tower - a 9-floor tower dating back to Justinian and Mehmet II - with a panoramic view of the city. From there we could see every mosque along the horizon and terrace gardens seated atop old apartment buildings. Afterwards we visited the French Quarter, a leg of European street lined with patisseries and bookshops. We soaked up a few churches before questing for the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art by the shore. The French Quarter was hopping once the sun disappeared - with scenester kids lining the sidewalks to play guitar, to watch someone play the ney flute, or to juggle some fire on a whim.
It was really hard to leave Istanbul - I'm so glad that I get to check it off on my list of places to see before I die, but I am definitely going to be returning at some point. The beautiful cityscape, the coast, the breeze - these are all things I will remember of my trip. Now I'm back in Cairo, classes start up again on Sunday, and it's already October. And time really does fly.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Fun fact: Practically everyone living outside the United States that I have met/seen in Egypt is terrified that they are going to die of Swine Flu and whenever you walk by tourists at monuments or sites, they will shamelessly shield their faces so that Americans will not cough in their faces instantly killing them on the spot - or something.
Thus, my university has been ordered by the Egyptian government to shut down the school until October 2nd starting tomorrow. We have this Friday-Tuesday off already for Eid al-Fatr to celebrate the end of the Ramadan, so that gives us two and a half weeks off altogether. This means perhaps another trip is in order? Nimisha's Swine Flu Tour '09?
To top off this most fortuitous day, my Arabic professor rescheduled our Arabic quiz that I probably would have failed anyway, and I'm eating the most delicious falafel sandwich from an Egyptian take-out place on campus that I paid 2.75 Egyptian pounds for, or .55 American cents.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
I don't care for swimming or beaches in particular, but I wanted to go to Alexandria in order to see the Mediterranean sea again. I can't even remember how long ago it was when I saw it in Greece, but it obviously stuck with me. I'm on the claustrophobic balcony of our 5th floor room in a 3-star hotel. I'm terrified of using the bathroom. But up here I can see a tiny sliver of the beach and the sea. There is a lone fishing boat that wandered away from the port nearby, and from the limited viewpoint from here it looks like we're on the edge of the world and everything else lying between me and the infinity beyond is just cerulean water. What was here, what was under those waters, what may still be under those waters, I don't know about. But I really wish that I did.
I had absolutely no luck getting into the linguistic anthropology class, but I did manage to enroll in the Egyptology class on Egyptian history during the Graeco-Roman era. So all my classes, school field trips, and weekend getaways all seem to be revolving around each other.
The sight of old Arab men fishing on the docks is slightly comforting in a way. Surrounding them are veiled mothers watching their frolicking children, some of them sheepishly wading in after them - veil and all - to cool off from the day. The sea looks so inviting - I keep catching myself thinking how appealing it would be to rent a boat and just sail out to nowhere. There are tentative plans to open an underwater museum (which in arabic is, mathaf taht al-bahr, and I think is really fun to say) in Alexandria and I really hope it happens in my lifetime at some point. We were introduced to the city first by visiting the site of the library of Alexandria - the largest and most famous library of the ancient world. Unfortunately, it was just the modern commemoration to it, since the original - which is said to have at one time held over 500,000 scrolls about all kinds of things and served as an academic place of learning for people like Euclid and other famous dudes of that nature - was burnt down and destroyed after several sieges. We then went to the Citadel of Qaitbay, a 15th-century fortress. I feel like all the citadels I've seen are just dry repeats built along the years, but Qaitbay seemed different. I could appreciate its architecture, simple though it is, and at the very top there are two giant windows overlooking the sea port, the rest of the city, and the far horizon. Looking miniscule while I sat several feet above the ground against the base of the stone window, I could hear murmurs from the docks and see the sun sparkling off the turquoise waves.
There's a huge fish market here, so after our sight-seeing we were served a delicious whole fish (head and all) and Turkish coffee. I'm pretty sure I've gained fifty pounds in the past few weeks just from stuffing my face with manoushi, kofta, and rice pudding. And I have yet to get sick, even after eating the most delicious lamb I have ever tasted from a shady back-alley restaurant downtown.