Sunday, August 30, 2009

So I ventured out to buy a sim card for the cell phone I brought from India in order to use it here instead of buying a new phone. The guys at Vodafone all thought I was Egyptian so they started speaking to me in swift colloquial Arabic and I just stared blankly at them for a few seconds. We all went to City Stars shopping center which is literally the most overwhelming shopping experience that I have ever encountered. Egyptians seem to stay up until the wee hours of the evening into morning in order to eat or shop. (Who really thinks, "Hrm. 1 AM? I think I need a new lamp"?) So the trip to the mall's grocery store just to get laundry detergent made me homicidal. I could hardly take a step in the place without bumping into someone, their small child, or a shopping cart. After grabbing the cheapest box of Tide detergent (1 dollar), I tried to stand in what I thought was a line where adamant mothers were ruthlessly pushing their carts in front of other people. It was definitely interesting. 

Waiting for the bus to pick us up, some naive Londoner who afterwards gave us all a huge lecture on Islam and how good of a Muslim she is made the mistake of giving a boy on the street money because "she was trying to be generous for Ramadan" only to have the boy's father claim that she didn't pay for the cups he was selling and they started to argue. It was extremely awkward, especially when he started to get violent. People just don't understand that giving away things to beggars makes their condition worse because it makes begging their job - they learn how to work the streets. It's so frustrating that people don't see that. 

I thought jet lag hadn't affected me at all until this morning when I was physically unable to wake up at 7:45 to get to orientation stuff and ended up sleeping in until 1:30 this afternoon. Thankfully, there are several chances to check-in and get schedules so today was just a refresher. I think my sleep cycle is now all caught up. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I have arrived! The view during touchdown from the plane was inexplicable. All I could see for miles was red sand and palm trees and I kept having to tell myself, "Okay, you're in Egypt now." It still hasn't even sunk in yet that I'm here and that I'll be here for four more months. The look of sheer joy on the face of the large old Egyptian lady sitting across from my aisle on the plane made me feel welcome, though. She was very happy to be home. And I think I'll be calling Egypt my home in the near future. We went on a felucca ride (a longboat) across the Nile last night - the evening breeze felt like a great introduction to the country. Riding through evening traffic - hearing loud foreign music blasting from nearby cars going from work to a club to unwind for the night - reminded me a lot of India so it all seems very familiar to me, like I've been here before in a way. 

The campus looks like a giant fortress made of sandstone - with fountains and palm trees in the courtyards and accents of blue tile. It's about half an hour away from the main city, but I don't mind being away from all the hustle and bustle. I'm a bit jaded by the fact that there's a Cinnabon and a Subway on campus, but at the same time it's a little bit comforting. Our dining hall offers some cheap Egyptian food, though - I sampled the chicken and garlic shawerma for lunch, which was my first actual meal in about two or three days. The staff here don't speak English very well, which is interesting since it's an American university, but it's good because this way I can get some practice in. I had a nice conversation with the night guards during an evening jaunt about campus to see where everything was and they invited me to break their fast with them. It's Ramadan, so Muslims are fasting. The fact that I can understand a lot of what people around me say in basic Arabic conversation is really relieving. The moment I went through security on campus (there's a strict policy of screening purses and bags and whatnot at the front gates) I had to speak Arabic with the guards since they couldn't understand me or opened my locked suitcases. (lazim al-miftah? "do you need the key?") 

We went into Old Cairo today - which has some historic sites dating back to 40 AD and earlier. We saw the Coptic church, where Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus supposedly hid in the crypt of from King Herod. Also, the Hanging Church, the old synagogue, and the mosque of Ibn Asr. They were selling lanterns in the market across the street and I wanted to buy one so badly but I never would've used it. The mosque upset me in some ways - it was so commercial and the students with me thought they were doing such a great thing by giving the street kids outside their candy that they had. Because it's "so cute" and it's "such a shame" that there are underprivileged children in foreign countries. Well, you're not saving them or helping them by giving them your snacks. You're making it worse. Thankfully, I brought my own shawl so I could cover up my head and not have to wear the communal robes that mosques distribute. I sweat out all the water I drank in the 90-degree weather and now I'm back to relax before going out again to try and get my cell phone to work here. Orientation starts tomorrow and classes start on the 6th - and I'm so excited to know what's going on and to have an organized schedule again. 

I still can't believe that I'm here. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

اهلآ و سهلآ الا بلاج! welcome to my blog!

Well, I have officially finished packing - filling up two suitcases that I can fit into and my indiana jones rucksack. As one can see, I have had plenty of practice posing with said rucksack so that my pictures will be perfect when I am adventuring in the desert, much like the real indiana jones did (but before that dumb alien sequel.) I'll be traveling about domestically until my flight from JFK to Cairo leaves tomorrow evening, so until then I plan on stuffing my face with America's delicacies (i.e. McDonald's and Starbucks.) I can't wait for my first taste of kebob from a street vendor and my first cup of mint tea from a corner cafè. I'll be keeping up with the blog as much as I can once I arrive, and uploading pictures to share with you loyal followers. 
مع سلام and goodbye!