Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I'm in Egypt now! أنا في مصر دلوقتي !


Sorry that I'm late in saying this, but it's just that since I arrived, I've been really busy.
In fact, so many things have happened that I feel like it's been more like a month that I've been here, rather than just a few days.
So, let's start from the beginning:
Carson and I left the orientation at nine in the morning on the 6th. We therefore missed pretty much the whole second day of the orientation. I was a little sad to say goodbye to the nice people that I'd met there, but at the same time I was itching to get going, and I guess we were lucky that we got to eat breakfast and leave straightaway rather than having to wait until the evening to leave like most of the others.
We were bused to JFK, and then waited about two hours before, full of excitement, a little bit of fear, and lots of anticipation, we boarded our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.
I didn't know Turkish Airlines at all, so I had no idea what to expect from it. But it was really nice! The plane was very new, clean, tidy, quite spacious, and had really large, individual entertainment screens. The food wasn't even that bad!
Advice: If you ever fly TA, try their sour cherry juice. It's really very good.
Anyway, we passed most of the time by talking, watching movies, writing in our journals, discussing our fears and excitement for our experiences, and playing cards. It was fun! :)
One thing that I also did was to continuously check the orientation schedule, which I took with me, to see which of my new friends were getting on their own flights. There were a lot to go through, as we were the second-earliest group to leave after South Africa. What was really funny was that, by the time we landed in Istanbul, the girls going to Ghana, who were the very last group to leave, had only just left New York!
All this made the 9.5 hour flight seem to pass by in no time, and before we knew it, we were landing in Istanbul!

The odd thing though was that, since the flight left so early (1 pm) from JFK, it was only midnight according to our body clocks when we landed in Istanbul at 5:30 local time, so we didn't feel tired at all!
Kida kida (anyway), when we left the plane and started walking around the airport, we ran into a huge group of Thai AFSers, who presumably were also in transit to their new countries. That was a pretty awesome moment, I have to say. :)
But, let's just say that the Istanbul Airport is structured in a pretty unusual way. Basically, it has two floors. And although we deplaned on the first floor, there was an almost creepily small amount of people moving around on it. We went to the gate that was marked as our connecting gate to Cairo on our boarding passes. But there was no one there, and a sign that said "employees only" or something like that. And after a while, we realized that our flight was going to leave from the second floor of the airport, and that we needed to go walk back and go through a security line, up a flight or two of stairs, and THEN search for our gate all over again! And so we did. But since our layover was only an hour, things very quickly turned into a mad dash. As we began to run at breakneck speed, swerving and dodging around people, utterly panicked that we would miss our connection, they even CALLED OUR NAMES OUT ON THE ANNOUNCEMENTS. At which point we turned and looked at each other, while still running, and simultaneously declared, "OH <insert bad word here>." xD
But thankfully, we finally saw our connecting gate, with the plane still there, quickly and breathlessly presented our boarding passes and passports to the gate agents, and then rushed down the jetway into the  plane itself, collapsed into our seats, and both breathed a huge, deep sigh of utter relief.

Then, we took off into the beautiful Istanbul sunrise, and continued on to Cairo. The flight was only an hour long, and it felt both very short and at the same time long in a way that was almost surreal.
As our plane flew over the Turkish landscape, and eventually the Mediterranean Sea, the Egyptian coast, and then on and on over vast expanses of desert, and finally over the enormous, bustling metropolis of Cairo, I finally realized what was happening: The moment I have been dreaming of since I was twelve, the beginning of my adventure in Egypt, the moment of my arrival, was FINALLY coming true.
The only way that I can describe it is that it really truly felt like a dream. It was an otherworldly, surreal, dreamlike, and utterly beautiful experience. I felt completely numb and yet full of emotion at the same time. It was an incredible feeling, one I've never felt before, and I doubt I'll ever feel it again, given how unique that moment was.
As the plane finally came to a stop, and Carson and I stepped off, onto the jetway, and into the airport, hearing Arabic being spoken at a mile a minute, we looked at each other and thought out loud,

I had this odd feeling of amazement, awe, and "OHMYGODI'MINCAIROANDI'MONTHEOTHERSIDEOFTHEWORLDANDHOLYCRAPWOW" for the rest of that day.
Two AFS Egypt volunteers, named Mohammed and Ahmed, came to pick us up at the airport and then took us to the Hotel President in Zamalek, a very upscale, very westernized neighborhood on an island in the Nile. We rested for a little bit, then Hady, my Egyptian friend who stayed in my hometown with AFS, came with a German girl named Regina who had arrived the night before us.
Then Fatma arrived!!!!! And she brought with her another volunteer from Alex, named Takey. And we walked around Zamalek together. Since it was Friday, we saw people praying. We also got to try sugarcane juice!
Eventually, we had some shwarma for lunch, returned to the Hotel President, and then rested for a while. The Germans- one boy named Tim, and four girls named Annika, Melanie, Imke, and Saba, arrived at about 4:00 PM, which I found out about by way of my roommate Tim entering the room and waking me up from my nap. xD
I didn't mind though, I wanted to meet him and needed to wake up anyway! :P

Kida kida, after that we went out to dinner in a nearby restaurant, and I tried molokheyya, a kind of Egyptian traditional soup. And then: WE WENT ON A BOAT RIDE IN THE NILE RIVER.
That was what Hady meant when he said that there would be a surprise when we arrived. SKDHSOSFSKOHMDGSKOHS.
We played Egyptian music, and danced, sat up at the front of the boat, and it was so much fun! :) There was a really awesome moment when we passed by a boat full of other people, and they waved to us and sang and ululated. :) That was one of the best nights of my life, and I'll never forget it. :)
The next day we actually started the arrival orientation, and we talked about Egypt and its culture pretty much all day except lunch. Then the Cairo kids got picked up by their host families, and at about 7:15 the Alexandria kids went to the train station to go come here! But we very nearly missed that too, because we left the hotel too late to begin with, and then we had to split up because we all wouldn't fit in one taxi. Takey, who was in a taxi with me and Melanie, also had all the tickets, so Fatma and Regina had to wait for us! And then on top of everything Takey, Melanie, and I got STUCK IN TRAFFIC. And I don't just mean any traffic - I mean Cairo traffic.
Infamous, painstaking, insanity-inducing, infuriatingly snail's-pace-slow Cairo traffic.
But we made it, just barely, by getting off in a spot on the street near to the train station, and then RUNNING LIKE THERE WAS NO TOMORROW. Takey chivalrously seized our bags and then started to run so fast that one of our inside jokes of the night would later be "Takey for Superman," and Melanie and I ran at a similar pace just to keep up with him. We finally breathed a sigh of relief as we ran onto the platform that our train to Alexandria was leaving from, and saw that it was still there. Almost completely ready to leave, and seconds away from leaving. But still there.
We then said a quick goodbye to Hady, and the train slowly, gradually pulled out from the station, beginning the final part of our long voyage to Alexandria - the city that will now be our home for the next ten or so months. And we even managed to have a lot fun on the train! We talked and laughed endlessly, and it made the train ride go by really fast. When we arrived, after 2.5 hours, we were welcomed by our host families, and mine is SO NICE. I was REALLY nervous to meet them while we were on the train, but all of that went away very quickly when I got off the train, recognized them from their pictures that I had seen, and saw the way that they smiled at me and greeted me like a long-lost relative. All of my fear and nervousness almost instantly melted away, and I felt that as far as my host family goes, I was in for a real treat. :)
Ahmed, my host father, Amal, my host mother, and Khaled, one of my two host brothers that will be at home this year since Gaser is in the U.S., were there to welcome me, and then they took me to their apartment. Loay arrived shortly afterward from work. Their home is really beautiful, too. It's pretty small and compact compared to the average American home, but I guess that that's partly because it's an apartment. Either way, I don't mind it; to me the smaller size just makes it feel really cozy. :)
Anyway, their amazingly nice neighbors then came over! And their three children Abdullah, who's 13. Ahmed, who's 9, and Mohammed, who's six have been incredibly nice to me since I got here. They've been talking to me endlessly, helping me out a lot, going out of their way to make sure I'm having fun, and are over all just really nice. :)
We stayed up really late talking and eating and having fun, and I called my parents back home to let them know that I had safely arrived and was with my host family.
I ended up going to bed at about 4:00 AM. XD

It must be said that for people who have never hosted a foreigner before, with AFS or otherwise, my family sure knows how to handle a foreign teenager with limited Arabic. :)

Then the next day, my host mother and I went to my school to buy the uniform and such. That, technically, was the first day; but my host family mercifully decided to let me take it off since I had only just arrived. I was terrified when I learned that I would have to start school so soon. :( And surprised for that matter, because the AFS Egypt volunteers had all insisted in the arrival orientation that there was no way school would start before September 18 or so. So much for that. >.<

Later that afternoon, my host mother and I went to the Montaza, the summer palace of King Farouk, who ruled Egypt in the mid-twentieth century (but was overthrown by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1952 revolution), and met up with our neighbors and their cousins there. I swam in the pool, which was a really refreshing experience, and then we played soccer and explored the Montaza together a little bit.
On the way back, since my host mother and I had taken a taxi there, our neighbors and their cousins insisted that we HAD to let them give us a ride back home - so all TEN of us somehow managed to cram ourselves into a car meant for five at the maximum. xDDDDD They were joking for some time about poor English skills in Egypt and translating Arabic directly into English (which, I can confirm, makes for some laughs xD), and even though I certainly did not understand all of the things that were said, I found what I understood hilarious and felt very happy. :) That evening will probably stand out as one of the most special memories of my entire exchange.

Then yesterday I started school.
And I won't lie, it was a pretty nos nos (so-so) experience. I felt very awkward and lost not knowing anyone, and then I sat through a forty minute Arabic class, and hardly understood anything. Luckily, the teacher just talked the whole class and didn't ask any questions. xD
I felt pretty sad by the middle of the day, but Youssef, an Egyptian who went to Minnesota with YES last year, who's in the class above me, made me feel better by talking to me and telling me that he went through a similar first day in the US.
Actually, I asked several other people who answered me similarly.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I found out that I get a free period during religion class, because I'm neither Muslim nor Coptic.
Today was much better, though. I feel really a lot happier; I talked to people, and there was just overall a positive feeling to it. :)
That's all.

BYE! And tisbahu 'ala khayr! (Goodnight everyone!)

the sunrise in Istanbul, just before we took off
On the boat on the Nile!

They don't call Cairo the City of a Thousand Minarets for nothing :)
my arrival in Alex!! :)

Mohammed and I made this together :D

I found this on my closet door :')
here's some more pictures:
Goodbye, USA!

One of my best plane shots.

From the descent into Istanbul. 

Another felucca picture.

The view of Zamalek from the Hotel President



    I'm so happy that you're actually there..thats pretty impressive. And reading the transliterated Arabic is really funny, because so many of the words are different from other forms of Arabic!
    Ah this is so exciting! Have fun and make sure to live in the present, that's essential when you're abroad :)

  2. thanks so much :D
    hahaha I felt tired of copying the real Arabic letters from Google Translate x3
    thanks for the advice!! I will, I don't think I'm having problems with that :)