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.

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