Monday, December 31, 2012

سنة سعيدة !

Or in translation, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

This has been a wonderful year, certainly one of the best of my life so far.
It's definitely been a unique one, full of unique and beautiful experiences. Getting to travel to Italy to visit my family back in April, attending the World Summit with my AFSer friends from the AFS Washtenaw Chapter back in Michigan, finishing an academically difficult year of school back home, then having a wonderful summer and a magnificent send-off, and finally the most significant event of all by far - coming here.
This part, of course, stands out as the most special one of this year. I had the luck of being able to fulfill the dream that I've had for four years: Going to Egypt for a year with AFS. I came to a country where I only knew three people - all former AFSers that had stayed in my hometown - from 82 million, that I had never been to before in my life, and where I didn't speak the language, to live with a family that I didn't know, and attend a school in which I knew nobody.

And now?
Now I have another family, and I love all of them to pieces. I have a routine, a life, hobbies, and good friends here in this city that may as well have well have been another planet when I first arrived. I know how to get around it easily. I know it well. And it feels almost like a second home to me now. I've been able to get to know and understand this country, this culture, this part of the world, from a perspective that not a lot of Americans or Westerners in general will ever be able to.
And although my experience at school has been far from perfect, I feel comfortable there now. I've made some really amazing friends that saved that part of my exchange. I've learned many things - both academic and life lessons - from attending this school.
I now know how to haphazardly understand and express myself in a language that sounded like COMPLETE GIBBERISH to me when I first got here.
And, perhaps most of all, I have made absolutely amazing friends.
From AFS, I have my incredible "German sister," as I call her. I have friends from both the USA and Germany in Cairo. And I have a whole horde of returnee-volunteer friends that went to places all over the USA.
And from school, I have fantastic friends from a surprising amount of places - Canada, the USA, Italy, Libya, Russia, Turkey (most born to Egyptian parents though), and of course Egypt itself, who have been wonderful to me and have gone out of their way to make me feel included and happy and make sure I'm having a good time here. They helped me out of the dark, unhappy first days of school, and brought me back into light and happiness. They saved my experience in my school, and I will forever be grateful to them for that.
I've been able to fulfill one of my greatest passions - traveling - in the extreme, visiting some pretty incredible places - all over Alexandria, Ismailia, Cairo - all of them beautiful and intriguing and fascinatingly new to me.
And overall, I'm living my dream.

Of course, there have been difficult times. I have missed family and friends back home. I have had difficult days. I have had frustrating and difficult experiences that have, at times, been quite hard to cope with. I have struggled with linguistic barriers and trying to learn how to speak a very difficult language. In spite of my awe of the amazing, new, and unknown realm I had just stepped into when I first arrived, in the beginning I faced overwhelming culture shock and strange, random mood swings. And I became intensely homesick at Christmastime. But I've gotten through the difficult things like these, and have experienced even greater happiness for being able to get over these problems.

All in all, it has been a wonderful year.
I can't wait to see what 2013, and the second part of my exchange in Egypt, has in store for me. :)

Happy new year! Buon anno! سنة سعيدة! Feliz año nuevo! Onnellista uutta vuotta! Mutlu yıllar! Frohes neues jahr! Feliz ano novo! سال نو مبارک! Boldog új évet! Gott nytt år! С новым годом! Gleðileg nýtt ár! שנה טובה!
Whatever language you speak and wherever you're from, happy 2013, everyone!

Love from Alexandria, Egypt,
Nico ^^

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Egyptian Christmas

Well, I'll probably not get around to finishing and posting this until tomorrow anyway, since it is quite late. But MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE! <3

So, basically my Christmas started when I realized about halfway through the school day on the 24th what day it was - on the way back I listened to all of the Christmas songs on my iPod over and over again.
It was a little weird that this day that I used to count the days until when I was little, that I always look so forward to, had arrived, and yet here I really had to try to feel the spirit since so few people celebrate it on the 25th (the Christmas of the Coptic Christians of Egypt is January 7 instead).
I expected it to be a little sad - to just stay home, blasting Christmas music from my laptop, maybe watching "Elf", "Love Actually", or "The Polar Express", Skyping my family back home, being homesick..
And it looked as though that was what was going to happen, until I got an unexpected phone call from the always-amazing Regina, inviting me to go to Mass with her in a Catholic church near the home of our calligraphy teacher.
Now, as I have mentioned before, I am pretty much agnostic, but I originally am Catholic, and I have attended church very frequently in the past. I have some good memories of attending wonderful midnight vigil masses on Christmas Eve, so I very quickly agreed.
We attended our service in a church called the "Église San François Xavier," run by Jesuits. The service was in French, and a good number of the people in the congregation appeared to be from France itself. And oddly enough, a lot of them seemed to be speaking French and Arabic together!
In any case, it was a really beautiful and emotional experience, both because we were really feeling the spirit of this holiday we love so much, and also because it was incredible for me to revisit my religious roots a little bit, so to speak.
After wards, we bought some cakes to celebrate, and the whole way home we were singing Chrismas carols and hymns, seeing how they were in English and in German.
It was really a beautiful feeling, because after starting out that day a bit sadly, I really feel that I felt a genuine Christmas spirit. :')

Then today I woke up quite late since I had the day off from school, hung around home for a while. Then, as we were getting ready for the Christmas party that my local AFS chapter was holding, my host family had a beautiful surprise waiting for me:
It was such a gorgeous, thoughtful surprise; I loved it soo much!
Then my host mother and I went to the AFS Alexandria Christmas party, which turned out to be a wonderful experience as well.
Regina and I both (completely unexpectedly) received some lovely gifts, and then there was a really amazing time when, since no one brought any iPods or speakers or anything, we sang songs instead! I remembered words to songs I didn't think I would - I sang songs like "Angels we have heard on high," "Hark! the herald angels sing," "Silent night," "We wish you a merry Christmas," "Feliz Navidad," "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer," and such, while Regina sang their German equivalents.
And we just kind of hung around and talked with all of the beautiful people from the AFS Alex chapter.
It was fun, needless to say.

So, all in all, yes, I missed Christmas in general, and celebrating it with my family, and just the general feeling of this holiday season back home. I missed many things about it and felt a bit homesick.
I had a really beautiful Egyptian Christmas, a better one than I could have hoped for. So, I am happy. :)

Merry Christmas to everyone! Hope it was amazing.
Love as always from Egypt,

Yes it is sideways. Sorry. But either way, it's my lovely Christmas tree from my amazing host family, complete with the gifts from the party under it! :D

Friday, December 14, 2012

100 days in Egypt - مائة يوم في مصر

And I honestly will say that I could not have asked for a better 100th day here.
First, I decided to go with my host mother to the middle school where she works, where some teachers and a large group of kids were working on repainting some murals.
She invited me to come, and I accepted, so at around ten in the morning we walked over to her school, which is VERY close, and then set to work.
It was a great experience to meet the teachers, and all the kids. They were, like middle schoolers anywhere in the world, a bit rambunctious and nutsy, but kind, lovable, and friendly all the same. They were all shocked that I knew how to talk to them in their language! xD
One really interesting thing was seeing a school that was very different from Taymour. This school is almost all in Arabic, in contrast to Taymour (especially the American division), since most subjects there are, of course, taught in English. It's also much less expensive than Taymour, which charges a tuition of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (about $3240) every school year.
All around, it was a really great experience, and I'm glad I came. :) My new friend Mustafa, the university-age son one of the staff members in the school (who speaks good English, although he thinks it's bad!), who also attended, took a bunch of pictures that I really want to post here, so hopefully I will be able to post them and then remove this sentence soon ;)
Afterwards, I attended an 'aqeeqa, which is the name for the equivalent of a baby shower, for a host relative's new baby, again with my host mother. This was also a wonderful thing to decide to go to with her, because I got to see relatives of theirs who I've met before, and meet lots of new ones, and it was just such a good time and a wonderful cultural experience. And the baby was SO CUTE! ^_^
Afterwards, I stopped at the barber shop right next to our apartment building to get a haircut, and that was really cool because 1) they did a good job and 2) I ended up having an amazing conversation with the friendly barbers - in Arabic! :D We talked a lot about politics and culture and so a lot of complicated formal Fus'ha words were involved, which meant that I said "eh? (what)," "tani (again)," and things of this nature, quite a few times. But I'd say I managed it pretty well. Hehehe :D

So overall, this one hundredth day, and this experience in general, have been better than I could have imagined or asked for. There have been ups, downs, good things, bad things, lessons taught and learned, lots of changes, and lots of things gained so far. And I CANNOT wait to see what the remaining 200 or so days have left in store for me.

To numerically celebrate this day, I am going to make one list of things that I would suggest to any future exchangers reading my blog/that I have learned from this experience. I will most likely not reach 100, but I'll put everything I can think of and we'll see how it turns out. :P Enjoy!

What I suggest:
1) Do not be afraid to follow your dreams.
2) Follow your heart and go to the country that you want to!
3) SPEAK THE LANGUAGE FROM DAY ONE. And don't be afraid to.
5) Embarrassing things will happen, so try to just kind of think "eh, whatever" and move on from them.
6) Learn tons of things about your host country.
7) At the same time, it is VERY important not to have expectations.
8) Keep an open mind at all times.
9) Don't be afraid to try to make friends, TALK to people as much as you can! But steer clear of anyone you dislike, of course.
10) Try to never say no to an invitation to do something (as long as it's safe and within the rules, of course), because you will see new things and meet new people that way.
11) Listening to music in your host language is extremely helpful in learning the language.
12) Try to learn how to get around your host city alone, no matter what the size, to be independent in getting around, that way you can have your own little adventures from time to time. :)
13) Alert your natural family of your safe arrival, but try to communicate little with people back home in the first few weeks, and wait until you have more of a routine and are feeling more settled in, as prolonged contact can intensify homesickness that you are likely to feel immediately upon arrival.
14) Missing things is natural - miss things, be proud of where you come from, and keep in touch with all of your family and friends. But live in the present and pay attention to what you have around you, because you will likely miss it very much when you have to go back home.
15) Teach people things about where you come from - teach them a little bit of your language, or practice it in English's case with people, answer questions, compare and contrast, clear up stereotypes, and foster intercultural understanding.
16) Returnees from your home country who went to your host country are walking encyclopedias when it comes to any questions you may have.
17) AFSers make great friends. :)
18) When you're suffering from culture shock, try to remember that someone who went from your host country to your home country is probably just as befuddled as you are.
19) Be friendly and open.
20) Look for help AROUND you when you're having problems.
21) Bring at least one formal outfit in case you have to attend formal events such as dances, weddings, or things of this nature. It may not seem that important but it really is!

That's all I can think of...I'll add anything else I think of :P
Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 7, 2012

The big three-month post!

Although, not so big maybe...We'll see what I'm able to come up with, haha! :P

But yes, as I nearly forgot, as of today, I have been in Egypt for three months.

Three months.

It seems really weird to say that. I know that I've said this before at different times and that it's more than a bit cliche, but it's definitely true:
Part of me feels like I've been here for so much longer than that, more like five or six months than just three.
And part of me feels like I've been here for a mere matter of weeks, rather than months at all.
But yet another part of me feels differently still:
It's hard to describe or put into words that make sense, but part of me doesn't recognize these measurements of time one way or the other. Part of me just feels like I'm here, living in the present, that everything is coming more and more naturally, that I am enjoying my experience and trying to get the most out of it that I can, and I therefore don't even feel that the time that has passed is long or short, it just feels normal.

I'm very proud to be able to say that, because I feel like in three months, I have made this place that I had never been to and seen only in books and online feel like a home away from home. There have been ups, and there have been downs, although mostly ups. And now, I feel happy, comfortable, and at home.

And I love this feeling.

And this place. Elhamdulilah. :)

So that's all!

-Your very happy Eskendarani in the making,

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Well, I said I would make a real post sometime, so...

Sorry I've been a bit of a lazy blogger lately, but for a while there wasn't really much news to tell, because I was kind of getting into a period of not going out that much and was actually sort of bored a lot of the time.
I'm happy to say that that's over now. :)
That, plus the fact that I am procrastinating on my homework, is why I am currently writing this post. xD

Now, where to start...
On the 30th of November I had the privilege of attending a farah - the equivalent of a wedding reception - with Adham and Regina.
It was SO MUCH FUN! :D
We went over to Adham's home first to get ready and then headed over with him and his family to a place called "Downtown," in this area that was full of large, indoor venues that are used almost exclusively for the purpose of farahs.
We followed the very elegant bride and groom inside, as they were encircled by a large group of people that were drumming and ululating.
Then some food was served, and after that we got straight to the most important part of the whole party: the dancing.
There was a DJ and lots of music being played, and some very oddly dressed dancers that I suppose were there to serve as entertainment for the guests. There were also cameras all around to film the event.
But more importantly, as soon as the DJ started playing music (and sometimes even singing himself!), the vast majority of the guests promptly made their way to the dance floor and started to dance - very energetically.
It was so much fun! At first, I felt a little shy, as I'm not much of a dancer. But after a while I decided to let go and dance along a little, even though I'm probably never going to be able to dance like the people around me could.
Even so, I still had an amazing time, and am very grateful to Adham for taking us and allowing us to see this quintessentially Egyptian event.
(Weddings here in Egypt are very important events in people's lives, and it's a lengthy process with four main steps: The first is the engagement, or khutooba, which is celebrated with a party at home exactly like the first one Adham took me to. The second is the signing of the marriage contracts. The third is the religious ceremony, which is followed by a celebration in the street outside of the mosque for Muslim couples, or inside the church, for Christian couples. And then the fourth and final step, and perhaps the most festive of all, is the farah itself - the huge wedding party.)

And then December started, which is something that I'm still having a little bit of trouble wrapping my head around.
As a Michigander, I associate December with cold, snow, ice, skating, skiing, sledding, missing days of school because there's so much snow, Christmas, Christmas music, you get the drift. And there's not a lot of these kind of things here.
Although it is definitely starting to get chilly.
In the morning, it's actually quite cold out, and I need to wear my large Taymour jacket (we get in trouble for wearing anything out of uniform, so I had to get the jacket from school) to stay warm. At night it also gets quite chilly. But of course it seems like nothing compared to the Michigan winter - although everyone keeps telling me that the worst of the winter weather has yet to come.

In any case, I had a very awesome day on December 1, because first, I went alone by taxi to an event in the Alexandria chapter of Amideast, an organization that promotes cultural learning and understanding between the USA and the Middle East, and got to speak and present in front of a large group of students my age, most of whom knew Gaser, because he is an Amideast participant! And I got to meet one of the leaders in the Alexandria chapter, whose name is Mrs. Nadia, a very sweet American woman who married an Egyptian and has been living here for eight years! And who knows Gaser personally.
And then who should unexpectedly show up to give a presentation of his own, but ADHAM! That was quite fun.
Afterwards, I took another taxi and headed over to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to meet up with Fatma and Regina to attend an event - the Closing Ceremony of the Model European Union, which has been going on for several weeks.
I had lots of fun there with them talking and enjoying the ceremony, and then what was really ironic is that I ran into Khaled, who was on the staff, and we both didn't even know that the other was coming!
I also met some pretty cool people: two Egyptian girls, sisters, that had lived in Alabama for eight years and therefore spoke really fluent English with American accents, and a nice girl named Mirna who's about to go on an exchange program to Poland for a few weeks.
SO,  that was an awesome week. :)

And so far, this week has been pretty typical.
I've been feeling really comfortable, even in my class! :)
And I received my report card from the first quarter - I will post a picture.
Today I was supposed to go to an event in the Bibliotheca with the other people from AFS, where we were going to hear an imam speak, but the event was canceled.
But the ironic thing was that I had missed the day of school in order to go to the event, since it was starting while I was still going to be in school. And we didn't know until it was too late...So I suppose I was absent for nothing. Although not really nothing, because catching up on sleep is always important. ;D
Then Youssef came over for a while, and we went out together a bit to get two very tasty (and, admittedly, a bit unhealthy xD) things: a falafel sandwich, and Boreo juice!
For those of you that don't know, Boreo is basically a rip off of Oreo's that are more like little cakes. They still sell real Oreo's here though, which I find a little ironic.
But either way, Boreo juice was delicious and reminded me quite a bit of a milkshake.

OK, that's enough procrastinating, I should go do my homework now....
Bye everyone!

PS: I've decided to make a tumblr, where I will be sharing random photos and the occasional blurb. Feel free to take a look at But don't forget to follow me here! Haha ;)

The sunrise has been looking really pretty lately when I get up for school. 

The farah

Me and Regina :)

Regina dancing with the bride!

Another pretty sunrise picture

My first Egyptian report card! I'm proud :) But please discount computer, art, and music, as we don't take them and I don't know why they're included. Also, discount the grey subjects at the very bottom, because they're in Arabic and I'm therefore exempted from them. Overall, my total grade was an A-. :)