Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The trip to Ismailia - and Hurricane Sandy-related anxiety

Well, I'm back from Ismailia!
Actually, I returned two days ago. But who's counting!? XD

Anyways, I left Alexandria bright and early on the morning of the 28th, with: Regina, her host sister Reem, Youssef, Melanie, Takey, Eman, Ahmed, another volunteer who's Fatma's brother, and Nagwa, their mother, for Ismailia. We made the four-or-so hour car ride in a rented microbus, and it was actually a very pleasant ride. The scenery was very pretty, and we talked and laughed endlessly. Eman even gave me and Youssef a little Turkish lesson, because she studies Turkish at the University of Alexandria.
I now know how to have a brief, simple conversation in Turkish. ^_^
Anyway, after arriving in Ismailia, we spent most of the rest of that afternoon in a nady (country club) located on a lake that is part of the Suez Canal! We went swimming in the FREEZING cold water, and then had lunch in the club.
Then after that we went on a little tour of the city, and saw the pretty colonial French Quarter, where the French people that worked on the planning of the Suez Canal used to live.
Then, we went out to a cafe, then, rather than staying in a hotel, we were hosted for the night by host families from the AFS Ismailia chapter (there is an active AFS chapter in Ismailia, but there are currently no AFSers being hosted there, since all eight of us got placed either in Alex or Cairo)!
Mine, the Elkaseir family, was very sweet and I was glad to get placed there for the night. :)
Then, the next day, we went on a felucca ride on the Canal, which was fun - except for the deafening shaabi music that was blasted from a radio onboard. -.-
After that, we went to Asia for two hours or so. :D
Haha, more like we took the ferry across the Canal to the Sinai Peninsula. But the Sinai Peninsula is technically part of Asia, so I guess we really did go to Asia for two hours (or so, I can't remember just how long it was). :)
The rolling desert landscape was absolutely beautiful! Seeing those endless dunes of sand, and imagining that this was the start of Asia, and all the way on the other side, thousand of kilometers (I'm trying to start thinking in the metric system) away were China and Japan, it was an amazing feeling.
We also visited a place that used to be part of the formidable Bar-Lev Line, the Israeli defensive line across the entirety of the Suez Canal back when Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula in the 70's.
After that, we took the ferry back to Africa for lunch, and spent some time in the home of Ahmed Nouh, a very kind AFS volunteer from Ismailia who we'd met back in Alex while he was studying there.
Then, we all piled back into the microbus for the ride back to Alexandria.
The return drive back to Alexandria was not nearly as pleasant as the departure-drive to Ismailia. Everyone was really tired, and because of that, pretty much everyone just fell asleep for most of the ride. Good thing I'd brought my iPod. :)
But one really amazing thing that I realized, was that as we were returning to Alexandria from Ismailia, it really felt for the first time like I was coming home. It was a beautiful feeling. :D
Another thing that had helped me to realize this was that, when I woke up in the Elkaseirs' home, for a moment I freaked out and didn't remember where I was, expecting to wake up in my bed back in Alex. XD
But yeah, I really enjoyed Ismailia! We all had a good time, and it's a very interesting little city. :) Also, the size of the city is much closer to Ann Arbor, and it has a much more small-town feel to it than the only other places I've seen in Egypt, Cairo and Alex, which are both big cities, so Ismailia reminded me of home a bit. :)

Now, on to the second subject: the infamous Hurricane Sandy.
I've been worrying lately for the large amount of family that I have who live in the New York/New Jersey area, and on the East Coast in general. All these terrible images circulating on the Internet and the news here have worried me greatly for my family. I don't fear too much for all my immediate family and friends back in Michigan, because Michigan is pretty far inland. But apparently, even Michigan has suffered some high winds and storms from the hurricane.
If a state that far inland can feel the effect of a hurricane that much, than I fear all the more for those that lie in its direct path. Stay safe everyone! I'm praying for you all from Egypt!<3 Inshallah, you'll all be fine.

Thanks for reading everybody!
Ma as-salama for now.

Palm trees! Taken on the drive

The nady where we swam!

One of the houses from the colonial French Quarter

A French cathedral 

Moonlit view of the Suez Canal

From the felucca ride

Gorgeous desert landscape :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

ليه أنا بحب اللغة العربية - ولغات كثير

(Why I love the Arabic language - and many languages)

So, today, since I don't actually have a meaningful post-idea, I'm simply going to bore you guys with a random tangent about why I love Arabic, and also just languages in general.

Now, I probably have already discussed these reasons for my passion for the Arabic language, especially for anyone who speaks Arabic and understood the video I posted.
Eh, whatever. ^^
So basically, one thing that really drew me to Arabic was the gorgeous letters and calligraphy. I saw pictures in books and on the Internet, and I found it absolutely fascinating and beautiful. I saw it as an ingenious way of making a work of art, out of nothing more than written words. And we don't really do that in English.
But to me, even the printed, naskhi Arabic that I saw when fiddling around with Google Translate looked like elegant artwork. I was drawn to it; I knew that I wanted to know how to form those tantalizingly unknown, mesmerizingly beautiful forms. Not to mention the rich legacy of literature.
Another reason was simply because I thought it was a beautiful spoken language. I heard people speaking it, and was drawn to it instantly: the fast-flowing rhythm, the sounds that were fascinatingly inexistent in any other language I had ever been exposed to. I liked it, and wanted those words and sounds to flow from my mouth.
An additional reason would be that I love how interconnected the words in the language are. A large system of three-letter roots exist that give rise to multitudes of related words that derive from them. An example would be the root "ك ت ب," or "K T B," which indicates something related to writing but doesn't really have a meaning of its own, from which come the heaps of possible verb conjugations for the verb yaktib (to write), and related words such as maktaba (bookstore or library), maktab (office), katib (writer), kitab (book), maktoob (written), muktab (declared), et cetera.
Yet another reason that caught my attention was that Arabic is a very useful language. It has official status in about twenty-six countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, EGYPT, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates,  many of which are countries that I am very interested in visiting. Also, I feel that it is important for the West and the Middle East to improve their relations, and more Westerners knowing Arabic would definitely be a big step forward.
Arabic also has a very powerful position as the liturgical language of the religion of Islam, which not only means that knowledge of Arabic gives one a major insight into the fascinating world of Islam, but also that languages spoken in non-Arab but majority Muslim countries, languages such as Turkish, Persian, Urdu, Indonesian/Malay, and many other languages around the world, have many words of Arabic origins -
a perfect example would be that, when Carson and I were connecting in Istanbul via Turkish Airlines en route to Egypt, I actually saw several words in the planes and the Istanbul Airport that I was able to understand, because they were very visibly Arabic in origin, such as dekika (minute), saat (hour), subah (morning), tarih (history), and harita (map).
So yeah, all of these reasons combined together gradually, and I was left with a passion for Arabic. :3

That's basically it for Arabic.
Now, I'm going to make a quick list of other languages I'd like to learn, along with a short blurb stating why, inspired by a post made by my amazing friend Donny who I miss VERY MUCH, in his blog, Skies of Gentian Blue (CHECK IT OUT IN THE MY BLOG LIST TO THE RIGHT. GIVE HIM LOTS OF VIEWS. Please and thank you.)
ENJOY. :P Again, I'm sorry to bore you all, as, given my huge passion for languages, this is likely to be very long. Please bear with me. 

1) Suomi - Finnish: For years now, Finnish has always been my number two language after Arabic. I'm drawn to Finnish mainly because I think it's so mysterious and beautiful. It comes from a language group called the Finno-Ugric group, of which there are only three languages with a significant amount of speakers (Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian). Therefore it's a mysterious, unique language, unlike anything I've ever been exposed to before. I also think it's gorgeous and musical sounding language, I love the rhythm and accent. I also think Finland is a very beautiful country, and I see something about it that I really like and want to connect with.

2) Deutsch - German: Many people say that German is an ugly language. I disagree. Even though it might not have the most gorgeous set of phonetic sounds, I like it a lot. I think it's a very nice-looking written language, and from the little bits that I know about the grammar, it has a very elegant one. And, given that it's such a descriptive language, there has been a large amount of literary work that came from German writers. Also, I think that German is a fairly important language for business, given Germany's current economic power. Plus, it's spoken in very beautiful countries, namely Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, that I would love to visit and connect with. Also, I've heard my German AFSer friends here in Egypt speaking it a lot, and I really want to be able to join in. :3

3) Português - Portuguese: Basically, with Portuguese it boils down to the fact that the language is freaking GORGEOUS. I'm serious, I think that, especially in the Brazilian accent, Portuguese if one of the most beautiful languages in the world. It's just so sweet and rhythmic and musical, ahh I love it! It's also spoken in equally gorgeous countries that I'm very interested in traveling to, namely Brazil, Cape Verde, and Portugal. But above all, Brazil. I find the blended, multicultural society, beautiful cities, and stunning rainforest, beaches, and other natural scenery to be very alluring.

4) Türkçe - Turkish: I'm drawn to Turkish for many of the same reasons that I'm drawn to Finnish.
The beauty of the spoken language, how different it is from anything I know, the uniqueness of it, etc.
Also, it's got a very interesting grammar from what I know. And as I mentioned before, it also has a large 
amount of Arabic words that I would be able to know almost automatically. 
Additionally, Turkey is yet another country that I am very interested in visiting, as it is a beautiful place
with an equally fascinating history. 
That's another thing about the language, it has an interesting history. Basically, it started off as a language
spoken by Mongolian nomads. Subsequently, a Turkish clan called the Seljuqs invaded Anatolia and imposed 
the use of their language throughout the resulting empire, which became the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Turkish
is very different from modern Turkish, as it was written in Arabic letters, and had a huge amount of Persian 
and Arabic influences. When Kemal Atatürk became the Turkish president, he introduced a huge set of reforms, such as switching to the Roman alphabet, and essentially overhauling the language back to its original form.
It worked so well that, ironically, Atatürk's own speeches are barely comprehensible to modern Turkish speakers.

5) فارسی - Persian: This is a language that, until very recently, I knew almost nothing about at all. It's a language that's largely unknown in the west. I had no idea what it sounded like, or what kind of language it was, or anything at all about it other than that it was the official language of Iran, and written in Arabic letters, until earlier this year, when I saw the Iranian movie "A Separation." I instantly was mesmerized by the sound of Persian, and when I realized how rich of a culture, and a legacy of beautiful architecture and literature and artwork there is in Persia, I decided to learn it. That, plus the fact that we really need to promote some cultural understanding between the USA and Iran, settled the matter for me.

6) Magyar - Hungarian: This is a language that I want to learn mainly for heritage reasons. My American grandpa is of Hungarian descent, and my whole life I've heard many Hungarian quotes and sayings, and have heard many stories about the history of the country from him. I'm very curious to learn more about my Hungarian ancestry. And I'm curious to know the language, because no one in my family apart from him knows how to say much more than "Mondunk neked vol a mitt (at least I THINK that's how it's spelled - Hungarian speakers, please correct me if I'm wrong!)", which means "I have something to tell you." This is another language that I'm interested in because of its interesting grammar. It also is very unique and mysterious - it's a Finno-Ugric language, but it's about as close to Finnish as English is to Persian - so not much at all.

7) Svenska - Swedish: This is another language I'm drawn to for heritage reasons, as my American grandma is of Swedish descent. But in this case, the language was lost even sooner, because her family had stopped speaking it before she was born, as they had been living in the US for several generations already. Sweden is also a beautiful country that I've wanted to visit for a long time, and I'd like to be able to speak to people while exploring its lovely cities and natural landscapes.
Additionally, one benefit is that the three languages of mainland Scandinavia (not including Finnish, as it is, like I said, not an Indo-European language at all), which are Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, are sufficiently similar that a person who knows one of them fluently will be able to understand all three of them fairly well, especially in the written form. So there's also the added benefit of being able to understand people from Norway and Denmark.

10) íslenska - Icelandic: I'm into Icelandic mainly because it has a very interesting history. We're going to paraphrase, but I will give a short explanation: Basically, all of Scandinavia used to speak a language called Old Norse in the Middle Ages, that was originally from modern-day Norway. Its speakers were Vikings. During the Viking explorations in which they colonized what is today Iceland, they set up a colony on the uninhabited island. These colonists were the ancestors of the Icelandic community. Basically, on the mainland Old Norse developed into Swedish, Danish, and modern Norwegian, which are quite different from Icelandic. But Icelandic survived, a virtually unchanged version of Old Norse, frozen in time. To this day, a speaker of Icelandic can very easily read a saga, a poem, or anything, really, in Old Norse, THAT WAS WRITTEN IN THE 15TH CENTURY, and understand it without any difficulty at all. I think that this is nothing less than incredible, and I want in on this secret. :3 It's also very pretty - it's light, flowing, and it has a nice sound to it.

11) עִבְרִית - Hebrew: I'm interested in Hebrew mainly because I find Jewish history to be fascinating. I don't really even know why, all I know is that for some reason, it sparks my interest.
The history of Hebrew is interesting to me as well. I mean, it was spoken in an ancient kingdom, and then essentially frozen in time in religious texts for almost 3,000 years. Plus, the letters are gorgeous.
And, I'm not going to get into politics or point any fingers...But, being the peace-lover I am, I really want to help calm down conflict in the Middle East (although I'm not sure what I can do), and I feel like knowing Hebrew would be helpful for that.
Plus, it's actually very similar to Arabic, so I would have a leg-up.

12) Euskara - Basque: I'm drawn to Basque because of its simple and sheer complexity and mystery. For anyone who may not have heard of it, Basque is a language spoken in a region that includes a chunk of northeastern Spain and a smaller chunk of southwestern France. And it is a language isolate, meaning that there is no other language on Earth that is related to it. Many people think that it dates back to a language family spoken in Europe before the arrival of Indo-Europeans from the east - many people believe that Basque is descended from the language of Cro-Magnon cavemen. Even though I don't know very much at all about this language or even much about how it sounds, I think that it is absolutely fascinating, and I would love to delve a little deeper into this incredible language and the culture of the people who speak it.

That is all.
I honestly hope that I did not bore you all to tears, as I'm sure that I did.

Many languages :P

For putting up with my endless blathering :)

Hey there!

True stuff right here.

Also, on another note, today I was able to meet the awesome Lisa Wolleschensky, a German girl who was hosted here in Alexandria last year! I went to meet her and a small group of her friends in the Montazah, and I went there and back by taxi - and alone. :D
I feel so independent!! ^^
But anyway, it was really great to meet her and talk with someone who has a very good perspective on this experience. And she's a wonderful person, as well as her friends. I had fun. :)

But now I really do need to get going, because I have to get up really early tomorrow for the trip to Ismailia, and being the procrastinator I am, I have not packed yet. :/
SO BYE!!! :p

Friday, October 26, 2012

Praying with my host family

Today, I had a singular experience.
I think it's fairly obvious what it was.

Last night, my host parents asked me if I wanted to accompany them to a prayer service the next morning, at five. AM. 
I asked them, "hakoon fee ey mushkila an ana mish moslem?" Meaning, "will there be any problem since I'm not Muslim?" 
They told me, "akeed la'a! (of course not)," and so I decided to brave the early wake up time and go with them.

It actually wasn't that hard to wake up. I just kind of...did it. And I didn't feel tired.
We then got in the car, and headed to a kind of mansion, fairly far away from where we live, and there was a congregation set up next to it.
I still don't exactly understand why, but I don't really care about the specifics of that. To me, the experience is what counts.

Basically, I prayed. I sat in the lines of people, next to my host father, and did my best to emulate what those around me where doing. To chant what they were chanting, which I actually was able to pick up very quickly. 
Then, I stood up with everyone, and underwent the customary motions of prayer. 
It was an absolutely beautiful experience. I felt so at peace and close to God. Even though I'm not Muslim, I definitely felt closer to my higher power than I've felt in a long time, praying together with all those people.
And what I loved was that there was absolutely no problem that I wasn't Muslim. Everyone either didn't notice, or didn't mind. I was one among the crowd. All the people didn't seem to care that there was a pretty obviously foreign teenager in their midst. They were just there to worship their God.
I felt welcome. And that was an incredible feeling.

Afterwards, I found out that my host family's relatives live inside that mansion, and we ate breakfast with them, which was also a wonderful experience.

But yeah, today was marvelous. I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling of becoming one with that crowd. It was something so unique and beautiful, unlike anything I've felt before.

No pictures today. But I don't really think it's necessary. Hopefully the words that I've used to describe this beautiful experience in my life will suffice to paint a picture in your minds, my dear readers.

Thank you for following my Egyptian adventure!
Goodbye for now,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

عيد مبارك!

This title basically means "happy Eid!"
And, quite obviously, I am posting with that title because today is EID AL-ADHA! :)

So, let me give you all a little background on this holiday: Today is the last day of the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. One Quranic story states that Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael (in Islamic tradition it was Ishmael, not Isaac), but at the last moment, God put a sheep in place of Ishmael to be sacrificed instead. To commemorate this, on this day, many families buy a sheep or some other kind of animal, and then use a part of its meat for the feast (Eid al-Adha literally means "Feast of the Sacrifice") and then give all the rest to the poor.
Another important part of today is that all the people on Hajj gather together and make a 20 kilometer walk to the Mountain of Arafat, under the heat of the Saudi sun, and then gather on the Mountain to pray for the whole day, asking for forgiveness and praying for all they hold dear to their hearts.
I love hearing about all of this; I think it's just so fascinating and beautiful.
One important detail about today is that everyone fasts, as a symbolic solidarity with the pilgrims that make the 20 kilometer trek to Arafat. And this morning I had a beautiful thought: "Why don't I fast with my host family!?"
And so, I decided to do just that. I wanted to join them in an important part of celebrating this holiday, and in their solidarity with the Hajjis currently praying on Arafat.
It was hard - I've never really gone almost a whole day without eating anything before. It was a very humbling experience; it made me feel not only a lot of respect and solidarity for the pilgrims and their arduous journey to Arafat, but also to all the people less fortunate than I am, to whom such hunger is, sadly, a constant reality.
It was also a wonderful spiritual experience. Even though I consider myself Agnostic and don't really practice any organized religion, I always have believed in a God, or some kind of higher power, and I felt just a little bit closer to that higher power of mine today.

To celebrate, I went first with my neighbors to eat at the Fitaar, or breaking of the fast, in their relatives' home.
Afterwards, I went with my returnee friend Adham, who was hosted last year in Iowa, to this really nice, open-air mall kind of place, called Green Plaza, with a large group of his friends, which was also really fun.

So, all in all, this was a wonderful day. :) And it's also not the end of the festivities - the Eid al-Adha celebration lasts for four days in total, and I have a vacation from school until the 31st. :D
Although, that doesn't really make a lot of sense, because we'll only have two days of school and then the weekend....>.< But I'm happy anyway, so I won't question it. ^^

One thing that I am also extremely happy about is that AFS Alexandria has organized a two-day trip for us to Ismailia!!!! :)
For those of you who may not be knowledgeable about the nuances of Egyptian geography, Ismailia is this really pretty little city of about 330,000 people that lies in the Sinai Peninsula, along the Suez Canal.
I've heard many good things about it from many Egyptians, so I'm very exited to be going there.
Especially since it's a city that not many people outside of Egypt know that much about at all, so in a way I feel like I'm about to be let on to a sort of local secret. :)
The only downside is that I won't be able to visit Cairo with my host mother, because she's going there to visit her parents and other relatives, whom I was exited to meet. And I was also looking forward to seeing my several AFS-related friends who live in Cairo.
But there will be more opportunities for that, inshallah. :)
And I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to visit Ismailia!
I will make a post about that visit when the time comes.

So yeah, that's really all for now....
Kol sana wa intu taybeen!
(It's basically a way of saying "happy _____, everyone!" It works for any holiday...)
Ila al-iqaa'!

Happy Eid, from AFS-EGY!

A map, showing the location of Ismailia within Egypt!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

thefiveforeigners YouTube channel promotion

Hey guys!
So, I'm going to make a special little post today to promote an ingenious creation of six American AFSers that are currently on exchange!
Basically, these six wonderful kids created a YouTube channel where they all post videos on a specific day of the week, every week, and every week there is a different theme.
So far, the themes have included their host families, their houses, their daily routines, packing, expectations, and so forth.
Among the six who created the channel is my amazing, unique, sweet, hilarious, and kind friend Niamh Doyle, who I met at my pre-departure orientation and is currently on exchange in Bellignies, France. If you read this, Niamh, I miss you and hope you're doing wonderfully in France!
I'm also in contact with another one of the fiveforeingers kids that was at my PDO- the always-awesome Olivia Lopez, who is being hosted in Gaziantep, Turkey.
*If you haven't noticed, I also included their blogs in the "My blog list" to the right. Niamh's blog is called "5,000 Miles Away," Olivia's is "LIVing on the Edge." GIVE THEM LOTS OF VIEWS. :D
Other kids who are members of the group include a boy named Alex, who's in Mestre, Italy, a girl named Indigo, who's in Oviedo, Spain, a girl named Tara, who's in Duisburg, Germany, and also a girl named Hazel, who's in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland!
So yeah...It's a really cool channel, so go take a look at their videos! :)

Here is the link:
The Five Foreigners - YouTube
ENJOY! ^_^
Not really a lot to tell about what's going on in my life here right now...I will post again when there is.
So, ma as-salama for now!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An update of my recent adventures

Well, once again it's been a while since I last posted. But there is much to talk about!
The school week was a very normal one...Nothing really worth mentioning happened.
However, at the beginning of the week, Regina, Melanie, and I decided that we should hang out a little, because we haven't been able to hang out before or after our calligraphy lessons lately, since those have been temporarily suspended due to our teacher's month-long trip to Russia for some kind of nifty photo expo there!
So, on Wednesday, I headed over to Regina's home, and then we walked together to the tram station, and met up with Melanie in the tram station in Sesinia, the neighborhood where she lives. We then walked over to the Corniche, and had - wait for it - Starbucks. XD
It looked pretty much exactly like the many Starbucks that there are back in Ann Arbor. I think that, if I had ignored the Mediterranean behind me and the Arabic being spoken all around, it would have felt exactly like the U.S.A.
I selected the caramel frappucino. And it actually was quite good. I will admit that I have been craving it for the past few days. XD
Anyway, after that little slice of Americana, we went to the nearby San Stefano Mall, which is basically just a huge, fancy, upscale, Western-style shopping mall. 
We wandered around, browsing, looking for anything interesting to buy. 
After much deliberation, I decided to buy Skittles. XD I had been craving those too...Don't judge!
I also was desperate to get a new book to read, since I didn't bring any novels with me out of an exaggerated fear of overpacking, which, I realize now, was a huge mistake. So I bought another Paulo Coelho book, "The Fifth Mountain." Until now, I have only read the foreword...
But yeah, that was a really fun day, and I'm so glad that we decided to hang out together. :) And we got there and back all by ourselves! :'D

Then, on Thursday I didn't have school, because my class was going on a trip to Cairo, but since my host family is planning to take me next week during the Eid al-Adha vacation, I decided not to go with them, which meant that I had a day off! :D
So I went out with Regina, Youssef, and Youssef's awesome half-Egyptian-half-Lebanese friend, Karim, basically the whole day!
First, we went to the Montazah, and we wandered around the park surrounding it, and eventually to the beautiful sea shore area. 
I will confess that, because it was a very hot, sunny day, and the sea looked so beautiful and inviting, I really wanted to just give in to my desire and dive head-first into the water. I came dangerously close to just saying "Ehh, what the heck?!" and doing it several times, but I decided against it. XD I wanted to soooo badly, though!
One really awesome thing that we did was go and sit on the hagiz al-amwag, which are basically these huge, sculpted hunks of cement that are used to prevent excessive erosion. 
We sat on them, and took some pretty awesome pictures.
We were SO close to the sea, and sitting there with the sea barely four meters away, I had this wonderful, dream-like feeling wash over me. I couldn't stop laughing or smiling. It was a wonderful feeling. :)
Afterwards, we walked back to the car...and got lost looking for it for a while, but caught up with it eventually. XD
After which, we grabbed a quick lunch, and went to this pretty community of summer homes on the sea called Mamoora, and rode bikes there, which was FUN. :D We raced up and down the beach several times.
And then headed on over to Carrefour Mall, another upscale, Western-style shopping mall, and met up there with Nehal and her friend Aya, who I also know from Taymour. :D 
I didn't end up buying anything in Carrefour though, because I was running dangerously low on money....XD
But it was awesome to have people from my two most important groups of friends meet each other!
All in all, that was an incredible day, and I think that I can safely say that it's made its way onto my list of days here that I will never forget. :)

Then the next day, I didn't really do much, except go with Loay and my host mother to her aunt's house to have dinner with her and her friends. 
It was a great evening - kind people. awesome food, and lots of laughs and smiles! :)

Then today I went back to the gawazat with my host mother to fix up the last little details for renewing my visa, and it was a very quick process, elhamdulilah! I can now legally remain in Egypt until the end of the program! HOORAY! :D
After that, my host mother and I went to her uncle's house, since he lives close to the gawazat, and I got to meet him and see his beautiful apartment. I'm glad I got to meet him, he is a really, really good man.

And...that is all.
As usual, I will now post pictures and take off. 
Ma as-salama!

Arabic Hunger Games! 

San Stefano Mall 
Ahh, how I've missed you. XD
Arabic Starbucks. XD But this isn't even the one on the Corniche, it's inside Carrefour. I just wanted to post pictures in some kind of relevant order. :P

The Fifth Mountain :p
the bay surrounding the Montazah

From right to left: Kareem, Regina, Youssef

The hagiz al-amwag we were sitting on, with the palace in the background 

Our little seaside photoshoot. :D
Hagiz al-amwag
I think that this picture perfectly sums up why I wanted so badly to jump into the sea. XD
The palace in the distance.
A close-up of the palace :)

Regina and I at the gates of the palace
More Carrefour

The awesome view from my host aunt's friends' apartment :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Disasters in the gawazat and six week orientation

Well, hello there, everyone.
I haven't made a real post in a while, but that's because, until now, there wasn't really any significant news to tell.
So, I'll start from this past Wednesday:
On Wednesday I went to the gawazat (immigration office) with Regina, her host father, and Melanie to renew our visas. They had almost no problems with theirs and were finished quickly.
However, mine had some kind of complication.
Since I'm studying here, I need to have a student visa, and in order to have a student visa, I need proof from my school that I'm studying here. I had a letter from them to prove this, but it seems that they neglected to put some kind of necessary stamp on the letter.
So first, we went to this weird place called the idara, that I didn't even see, because we were told to stay in the car, then to the other branch of my school to get the stamp, then back to the idara, then back to the gawazat. But when we returned to the gawazat and showed them the stamp, it STILL wasn't what they wanted!!!!!!! >:(
So I had to go back with my host mom the next day, but thankfully we managed to get everything sorted out. Now I just have to go back next Saturday for one quick thing, and I'll be all set until June. :)
But, the funny thing was that I ended up having to miss both days of school for this whole visa fiasco. xD

Then, on Friday morning, I was given a ride to the Hotel Kaoun, on the Corniche, to the AFS six week orientation! However, it was only for those here on the student program, so it was just me, and Carson and Annika, who came up from Cairo with a very nice AFS volunteer named Dalia Sherif, who went on the two-week Cairo-Stuttgart Sistership program (Cairo has a sister city called Stuttgart in Germany) and a summer community service program in Paraguay.
Fatma and Takey oversaw the orientation along with her.
The first day, we pretty much just stayed in the hotel doing different activities relating to our experiences so far - family, language, school, good things that have happened, bad things, so on and so forth. Luckily, we had several energizers in between; mostly the game called ninja, in which I ALWAYS AM THE FIRST ONE OUT. >.<
Anyway, for lunch we went to an absolutely delicious seafood restaurant in a neighborhood near the sea (and also near Qaitbey) called Bahari. Afterwards, we headed back to Kaoun to conclude the orientation and then went all together to a Massar Egberi concert, where we met Youssef, Regina, and several other AFS related friends! :D
The trouble was that we lost them very quickly in the crowded concert space. :(
But then we also ran into Loay and several of his friends, who also attended the concert! :) He gave us all a ride back to Kaoun, and then for a while we just sat in the lobby, talking, before eventually getting tired and going up to sleep.

Then, on Saturday we pretty much were tourists. xP
We went to Kom el-Dikka, which is a site of ancient Roman ruins. That was really incredible; the thousands of years of this city's history, and the glory it enjoyed in ancient times, felt so real in that little enclosure of Roman buildings.
Then, we also went to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and saw the actual library part for a change. AND IT IS HUGE. :D As one who very much loves to read and to learn, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is nothing short of a little corner of Heaven on earth to me. ^_^
I've gotten some contrasting answers on weather or not it's possible to actually take out books from it, but I plan on finding out and setting up an account to do so if possible.
Anyways, all the rave about the size and amount of books aside, it's a pretty interesting structure from an architectural point of view as well - it was built in a way to allow the maximum amount of sunlight into the library as a power conserving mechanism, and parts of the ceiling are blue and green, which are apparently very beneficial to your eyes.
We also got to see a few art museums located inside the Bibliotheca.
After that, we went back to Bahari to eat our lunch, this time in a different restaurant called Tikka Grill, where I selected a very tasty sheesh tawook.
Then, Dalia, Annika, and Carson went back to Cairo, and Takey and his sister gave me a ride home.
Since it's so beautiful and a trademark of Alexandria, I'm sorry for Carson and Annika that they didn't get to see Qaitbey. Oh, well, hopefully there will be a next time for that. :)

SO, this brings us back to the present day.
Not much to tell about this week so far. Just school and business as usual.
Actually, speaking of which, I'm going to post a couple of pictures and go now, since I have an overdue French project to finish.

The view of the Corniche from the meeting room on the top floor where we held the orientation!
The balcony in the hotel room where Takey and I stayed
View from the meeting room - sunset version!

Dusk version

From right to left: Me, Carson, Fatma, Annika - courtesy of Takey

the Massar Egberi concert!

The view from the balcony of my room - I think the Corniche has taken its place on my top 5 list of favorite places in the world :)

A panoramic view of Kom el-Dikka
From left to right: Dalia, Eman(Takey's sister), Carson, Annika, me
a pretty mural near a school 

Inside the Bibliotheca Alexandrina!

The view from the window in Tikka Grill, Bahari

Sunday, October 7, 2012

الشهر الأول هنا -The first month here

Well, exactly a month ago, I had just arrived in Egypt.
It feels absolutely crazy to say that. That day, that beautiful first day that we wandered around Zamalek, wide-eyed and open-mouthed from our disbelief that we had finally arrived, feeling a confusing and almost trippy combination of crippling jetlag and intense adrenaline rushes induced by our new surroundings, tasting shwarma and sugarcane juice, and that ended with the unforgettable trip on the felucca in the Nile, feels like both yesterday and an eternity ago.
A mighty thanks to my host family, to the AFS Egypt and AFS Alexandria volunteers, and to AFS USA and the Global Leaders partial scholarship, without whom I would not be here, living this dream of mine.

Since my first month has come to a close, I would like to talk a little more about why I chose this country, and also why I decided to make this blog about my experiences here:
As I mentioned, in the first post I ever made, I chose Egypt because, ever since my early childhood, I've been utterly fascinated by ancient Egypt, and more recently by Arabic and Islamic cultures in general, and I really want to learn Arabic because it's both beautiful and useful. Figuring that Egypt has all these things I love, I decided it would be a perfect place for my exchange. And I chose it.
Even through all the trouble with the revolution and such, I always stuck by this choice.
I just couldn't picture my AFS year taking place anywhere else. It had always been my dream to do it HERE.
And, elhamdulilah (thanks be to God), it's come true.
I think that, however, a common misconception these days about Egypt in the west is that it is still unsafe from the revolution. I can't tell you how many times people told me to "watch out for yourself" or "stay away from the protests" or "not get shot" before I left the US.
I would like to take a moment to inform you, my dear westerners, that EGYPT IS SAFE.
Admittedly, the country is still very much getting back on its feet from the effects of the revolution. It's still experimenting, exploring, and trying to figure out which direction it's headed in politically. And consequently, it still does have a number of problems that still need to be sorted out.
AFS would NOT be sending two American and six German teenagers here if it were not safe.
So, come on over! Explore this unbelievable place. Look past the recent past, and embrace this beautiful country for what it is.

In my mind, one of the most characteristic things of Egypt is contrast. 
Egypt is absolutely full to the brim of contrasts. It's shaabi music and the call to prayer. It's people in niqabs and gallabeyyas brushing shoulders with people wearing Levi’s and brand-name T-shirts. It’s Muslim mosques and Coptic churches. It’s the occasional donkey or horse drawn cart sharing the road with taxis and BMWs. It’s the barren expanses of the Sahara Desert and the bustling, populous Nile Valley. It’s huge cities and tiny villages on the Nile. It’s shwarma, ful, and falafel stands, and Western fast food joints. It’s upscale neighborhoods and heart-wrenchingly poor ones. It’s modern architecture and ruins from Pharaonic times.  It’s the huge diversity of opinions, lifestyles, and ways of life of all the Egyptian people. It’s them, and the minority populations like the Siwi Berbers of Siwa Oasis, and the Nubians in the south.  It’s the Nile and the oases. It’s the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. It’s Alexandria and Cairo. It’s Lower Egypt (the north, ironically) and Upper Egypt (the south, ironically). It’s Arabic calligraphy and graffiti. It’s swelteringly hot days and chilly nights.
 It is amazing. It is beguiling. It is fascinating. It is Egypt. And I love it dearly.

Now, a quick blab about why I made this blog:
First and foremost, I made it as a way to inform my family and friends in the USA about my experience here without having to constantly contact every single one of them separately.
But, I also decided to make it to represent Egypt and AFS Egypt well, because my German friend Regina and one of the Cairo-Germans, Imke, plus me, are the only ones that have blogs here this year, and I am, quite obviously, the only American with a blog.
Therefore, I feel that in some ways I'm representing the AFS-USA sending program to Egypt this year, and I wanted to show people that Egypt is a safe, wonderful country.
Unfortunately, in the past two years since the revolution, not many people have understood this.
Some years ago, a hundred or more AFSers from all around the world would come to Egypt, and be placed all over the country, from here in Alex all the way down to Aswan in the far south.
And this year, it's just eight of us, two Americans and six Germans, in Alex and Cairo only.
I'm not complaining, because they're all really cool people, and this way we do have the opportunity to get to know each other very well and become very close.
But it would be nice if Egypt could get the same turnout of AFSers that it did only a few years ago, so more people can understand and promote understanding of this beautiful and often horribly misunderstood culture.
So, all future AFSers and other exchangers:
If you would like to choose Egypt, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO!
Follow your dreams, come here, and you will NOT regret it.

Also, a quick shout-out to all the people out there with exchange blogs:
Thank you for making them, because they're all so insightful and awesome and interesting to read. Keep the posts coming! :)

Now, before I post some songs and go, a short update about my own life:
Not much has happened in three days.
On the 4th, Loay and I went to a concert at the German Cultural Center! So that was cool.
Then the next day, we all went to the house of their Tant (aunt) Karima for lunch with a few other relatives, and we enjoyed an absolutely AMAZING LUNCH. IT WAS INDESCRIBABLE. :DD
Yesterday, I went with Adham, Regina, and her host sister Reem to see a comedy movie called "Baba" (Dad), which was very funny! :D It was in Arabic, but we could understand a surprisingly large amount of what was going on simply from their body language or the way they spoke, or simply what we saw on the screen, which was awesome.
We were the only people in the theater, which was SO cool. :D
I have today off from school also, because yesterday was the 6th of October, which is the anniversary of Egypt's recapture of the Suez Canal from Israeli occupation back in the Yom Kippur  War in 1973.
And today is also my sister's birthday!!!!!!!!!!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SIS!!! I miss ya. <3
So yeah...that's pretty much it for now.
I'm going to post the songs I promised and some pictures and then take off.

the AFSEGY volunteers!

Now, the videos:
First, the Egyptian national anthem, "Bilady, Bilady, Bilady!!" 

Now, a slightly cheesier song choice, but one that applies well to my situation, because so far, everything has been great, elhamdulilah :)


And one more, for any exchangers that might be having a harder time than me, a wonderful song called "Just Fine" that my Thai friend Nat, who was in Ann Arbor last year, showed me:
Also, here's a really nice photo:
A photo from the AFS EGY website several years old, with AFSers hosted in Egypt from the USA, Italy, Belgium, Thailand, Paraguay, Germany, Switzerland, Serbia, and Chile, proudly sporting their respective flags.