Sunday, February 17, 2013

My awesome week

Once again, it's been a while since I last posted.

And I figured that I should post about how awesome my week was last week, so here it is!
Basically, at first, I was not looking very forward to going back to school, wishing that the vacation could just keep on going, since it was so fun and carefree, and I felt like I had so much freedom to stay up and get up late, and constantly go out with friends and just have fun.
But, eventually, the first day back at school, February 10 (which, coincidentally, was the day that marked five months since I started school) sneaked up on me with out warning, and I was forced to face the inevitable.
I'll be honest, I truly was not looking forward to it at all, and since I had gotten so little sleep the night before thanks to my screwed up sleeping patterns during the vacation, I barely had a drop of strength left to haul my carcass out of bed that morning.
But I gritted my teeth and jumped right in, and I must say that I could not be more pleased with the results.
I can honestly say that that first week back at school was the best one that I have had in my entire time at Taymour English School.
It was just really fun! It was nice to see all my good friends that I hadn't seen since before the vacation, catch up with them, and chat with the teachers.
Even from an academic standpoint, everything went swimmingly. I felt like I was understanding everything quite well, and I felt great.
And I just had so much fun with my friends, talking and joking and just having a great time together all week.
I felt like I knew everything and everyone so much better.
And furthermore, I felt completely happy in school. And thinking back to my infamous first day, September 10, 2012, I feel so proud and content to be able to say so. :)
I also received my second quarter report card, and while it wasn't quite as outstanding as my first quarter report card, I'd still say that I'm happy with the vast majority of my grades.

The week in and of itself wasn't particularly eventful in any way, it was just the happiness and the new-found confidence that I felt, and the fun that I had, that made it so eventful. :)

Then, on Thursday, the 14, Regina and I attended our calligraphy teacher Mr. Said's photo exhibition of all the pictures that he took from his trip to Russia earlier last year, in the Russian Cultural Center, which incidentally was on the same day as his birthday.
The photos were extremely beautiful, although we had already seen them many times before during our lessons.
The Russian Cultural Center itself was GORGEOUS.
It was located in a neighborhood of Alexandria that I haven't seen very much, called Azarita. The building had a really beautiful, elegant, and impressive architecture that reminded us very much of a European palace.
After that, we went with Youssef, an AFS volunteer who's in school with me, his mother Maha, who's Regina's counselor, and her husband, to do some shopping for souvenirs for family and friends back in our home countries.

That's all that I have time to write for now, so I'll just leave you all with a quick picture or two for now and try to be back soon.
So that's all..
I've been feeling really adjusted, confident, and happy in my new surroundings lately, and I feel glad almost twenty-four/seven. :)

However, there is one thing that has been making me quite sad lately:
Since she was only here for a semester program, Regina is going to leave at the end of this week. :'(
But more later, I have to go now (and I'm going to try and stay positive for a while :)).
Thanks for reading as usual,
My report card. (Again, ignore art, music, and computers, because my class doesn't take them, so I don't know why they're included...)

The photo exhibition pamphlet. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

We're halfway there! O.o

Well, it only just occurred to me that I forgot to mention something:
That I have (as of yesterday) been in Egypt for five months (and as of today, living in Alexandria for five months) with five months left to go!

It seems so unreal to think so.
It honestly doesn't feel like it. Usually. I've had this same feeling about time in general anyway for the past several years of my life, that it feels as though it's passing really quickly, and yet if I think back in time even just a few months, it feels like it was an eternity ago and yet somehow yesterday at the same time.
This is no less true in terms of this experience for me.
The first days that I arrived in this country seem so incredibly long ago, and yet at the same time it feels like five months have vanished in the blink of an eye.

Many things have happened in these five months, obviously. I've learned so much, made so many new friends, come to so many incredible realizations, and...I feel like I understand the world so much better.
I've experienced, felt, and learned a crazy amount of things that I probably would never have even contemplated if I had just stayed at home and comfortably lived this sophomore year of mine back in the United States.

In short, it certainly has not been easy or perfect. There have been days where I felt miserably low, lonely, and terrible, and felt like I had lost all hope. But I made it through them, and was quite handsomely rewarded, because the positive things that I have felt and experienced since I got here outnumber the negative ones by at least a million.

Coming here was truly one of the greatest decisions that I have ever made in my life so far. And I am starting to realize that now, I really feel comfortable here. I know enough of the language to express myself and communicate with others decently, I know the local culture well enough to comfortably interact and deal with people, I know more or less what to expect, and I have enough connections here in terms of friends and such that I truly feel supported and at home.
I truly feel happy, more or less all the time at this point.
I mean, there are still bad days every now and again. But for the most part at this point, I really, truly feel like I'm happy, settled, and at home in this country.
And it's still an ongoing process; this continues to develop. Every day, I feel a little bit more comfortable and at home. Every day, I feel a little bit more proud of what I lived so far in this experience, and look a little bit more forward to what's left of it. Every day, I feel a little bit more like a member of my family. Every day my Arabic gets a little better (sometimes just by a word or two, but that counts, doesn't it?). Every day I fall in love with this country a little bit more. And every day I feel a little bit happier. And every day the thought of leaving this place terrifies me a little bit more than the day before.

This was the reason that, in all the years I've dreamed of going on exchange, I never even once considered a semester program - because I've heard the exact same story from returnee after returnee:
"I had a really successful and incredible time there, and would repeat it in a heartbeat, but I felt like I had to go home just when I was getting settled and comfortable."

Don't get me wrong, I think it's more than possible to have a successful and enjoyable exchange in just a semester. I know several people that are in or who went to their host countries on exchange for a semester program, and their exchanges were tremendously successful.
So, if you're planning and hoping to go study abroad, don't despair if a year program is not possible for whatever reason; you will certainly have a successful exchange in just a semester.
But be forewarned: It will be incredibly difficult to leave everything behind after only five or six months, probably more so than even I can imagine.

I know for me that, as I alluded to earlier, this period of incredible happiness has brought up some really worrisome thoughts at times about how I am simply not not ready to go home - and am very unlikely to feel any more so as time goes on (in fact, unfortunately, I guess the opposite is very much more likely).
But, for now, I'm trying not to give that too much thought.
For now, I'm simply trying to enjoy the fact that I have had a successful time here so far - not easy, but enjoyable and successful - and that I am fortunate enough to still have five months left in this amazing country to discover, develop, and enjoy even more so than I have in the first five months that I've been here, that I can look forward to.

Thanks to everyone who's supported me and who's made this possible so far!
And thank you all, as usual, for reading.

I thought that this song would be quite appropriate.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." Part 2: Luxor

Now, let's continue right from where we left of, and go on to the second city: Luxor!!

January 26, 2013 
When we arrived at the train station, we had a brief moment of panic as we rushed around trying to locate each other, and then once we were reunited, we said our sad goodbyes to the amazing AFS Aswan people, and then got on the train with a volunteer from Luxor named Ahmed who had come to accompany us from Aswan to Luxor in the train. The train ride was pretty fun, we spent the whole time talking and laughing, and the people from AFS Aswan had given us a slew of chips, chocolate, and sodas, which were consumed very rapidly towards the end of the trip. xD
Then, once we arrived at the train station in Luxor, we were picked up by the families from AFS Luxor who were hosting us. Carson and I were hosted in the same home, and our host sister Mariam went to Alaska with AFS last year.
After getting home and resting a little bit, we all went out together to dinner and then were walking down the Corniche in Luxor for a long time, just laughing and talking and getting to know each other. :) It was a fun night, and a great start to our time in Luxor.
My crummy attempt to capture the view from the train window. 

Us all together! :D From left to right: First row - me, Carson, Martina, a returnee who went to Delaware, Regina, Annika, Tony, who went to Tennessee. Second row - Vero, Tony's sister, Ahmed, who went to Pennsylvania, and Amr, their friend.

See if you can figure out what word this is....

January 27, 2013
The next day started off with a very pleasant breakfast with Carson, and Mariam and her family, and then we all gathered with the other AFSers at Karnak Temple.
Karnak is basically a large assortment of various temples, shrines, and pylons from different parts of ancient Egyptian history.
I'll take an excerpt out of my own journal:
"[Being there] was truly amazing for me. I've lost track of how many times I read the name of that temple in history books or heard it in documentaries that I watched throughout my childhood, and there I was, In it. Amid the pillars and the hieroglyphics and the electrifying, tangible, thousands of years of history, imagining people coming from all over Egypt to worship the gods that they believed controlled every aspect of their daily lives, and the cosmos itself."
It hardly suffices to say that Karnak was stunning.
After Karnak, we then visited the Museum of Mummification (no pictures, photography wasn't allowed), which greatly refreshed my memory of the mummy-making process, since I hadn't read about it much for quite a while, and also gave us an opportunity to admire their impressive collection of ancient artifacts, among which a mummy, It was the first mummy that I've seen since coming to Egypt, and it was a great mummy to see first, seeing as it was stunningly intact (especially considering that it was probably at least 3,000 years old!).
Then we walked over to Luxor Museum, which boasted an even more exquisite collection of ancient artifacts galore - statues, busts, coins, jewelry, sarcophagi, so on and so forth.
Needless to say, it was a more then amazing experience for me. :)
After that, we went back to our host families homes to eat lunch, and then later that evening we all met up at Luxor Temple, another ancient Egyptian temple complex, that was founded in 1400 BCE. It looked a lot like Karnak, but this time the beauty was further added to by the fact that it was night, and the lights made the whole place look really mysterious and beautiful.
After the temple, we went out to the Corniche and found a quiet spot to play ninja, before eventually heading over to a riverside cafe where we met some people from the AFS Luxor chapter, and then resumed playing ninja, as well as truth or dare and never have I ever.
It was one of the best nights of my life so far; it was all just so fun and crazy and amazing and spent in the company of a group some of the friendliest, sweetest, and most fun people that I have ever known in my life so far. I will certainly never forget this entire trip, but what's even more for certain is that I will not forget this unbelievably wonderful evening. :)

Sphinxes with ram heads, Karnak Temple.


Me and my German sister. :D


Me, Carson, Regina, and Annika :) 

One of several beautifully preserved falcon paintings.

Group photo: From right to left: Amr, Carson, Vero, Regina, Martina, Annika, me, Mariam, Baty (her sister), Tony, and a another friend of theirs

Luxor Temple

Playing ninja - Ahmed, Mariam, and Carson

Playing mafia - me, Mariam, Martina, Vero, Regina, Tony

More ninja.

More mafia. 

January 28, 2013
The next day, we awoke quite early, and then took a microbus all together to the Valley of the Kings!
For those of you who may not know, the Valley of the Kings is a valley near Luxor where the pharaohs (as well as some powerful nobles) were buried for about five hundred years, from the 16th to 11th century BCE,
Let's just take everything that I said about hearing-so-much-about-Karnak-in-my-childhood-and-actually-being-there, and multiply it VERY significantly.
This place is something that I read about and heard about back in the day, a good ten times more than Karnak, that one place I was always hearing about that was constantly cited as the final resting place of countless pharaohs who changed the course of history both in Egypt, and the world.
And there we were.
Our tickets gave us the chance to enter three tombs. One of them belonged Septah, another one belonged to Sett-Nakht, and I cannot remember the final one.
I'll use another excerpt from my journal to try and convey what it was like:
"The tombs were even more amazing than the valley itself. I can barely describe the feeling of being in one...Imagining the thousands of years that the pharaoh and all of the possessions that were laid to rest with him, had spent there in that tomb, sealed away from the world, to let him leave for Osiris' kingdom.
Again, electrifying.
And the hieroglyphics too! I was always marveling at them in bewilderment, wondering what they might be, wondering what they might mean - were they accounts of the pharaoh's life? Tributes to his goodness and greatness? Spells from the Book of the Dead to guide his long journey into the next life? - and daydreaming of how incredible it would be to be able to read them."
I wanted to enter Tutankhamun's tomb as well, but it had an extra charge and we didn't have time. But the volunteers consoled me by saying that there really isn't too much inside the tomb itself now, since all the artifacts apart from the mummy itself are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Afterwards, we went straight from there to Deir el-Bahari, which is also commonly known as the Temple of Hatshepsut.
Some background about Hatshepsut: She is one of only three female pharaohs (the other two being Nefertiti and Cleopatra). She originally was only supposed to temporarily rule Egypt as regent until her younger brother came of age, but she made herself pharaoh instead. During Hatshepsut's reign, many trade routes were re-established, especially with a land to the south of Egypt called Punt (Egyptologists are not sure exactly where this country was located, but it was likely near to modern-day Ethiopia). She also built extensively during her reign.
Now, some background on the site of Deir el-Bahari itself: It's a complex of mortuary tombs and temples that was started by the building of the mortuary temple of the pharaoh Mentuhotep II about 2000 years ago, and was built on extensively just over a thousand years later by Amenhotep I, as well as Hatshepsut herself. Only about 10% of the whole complex is above ground, and the remaining 90% that extends into the mountain itself is not open to the public.
This too was nothing short of astonishing. Apart from all the rich history, the site is full of beautiful architecture, art, and sculptures. As if that wasn't enough, there was a great view as well!
After we saw Deir el-Bahari, we headed back to our host families' homes to rest for a few hours, and then met up at the Corniche to ride a felucca on the Nile! This was great, because we were treated to a lovely sunset on the river, and played more fun games together on the boat. The only complaint that comes to mind was that it was quite chilly, but this didn't matter so much. :)
After that, we headed back to Mariam's home, to spend our final hours together having fun. And boy, did we! We all put our pictures on Mariam's laptop, and then just had fun together, talking, eating, playing more games, listening to music that I played from my laptop, and just making more unforgettable memories together. :')
We were hoping to stay there together and pull an all-nighter together, but unfortunately everyone had to go back to their own host families at midnight. :"(
Since we already were with ours, Carson, Mariam, and I stayed up together looking at pictures that everyone had taken, and talking about anything and everything, until it was too late to go to sleep (since we needed to leave for the Luxor Airport at about 5:00 am to catch our 7:00 am flight to Cairo).

The landscape of the Valley of the Kings.

The model in the welcome center.

Deir el-Bahari!

With my awesome "Luxor sisters," Mariam and Carson :D

Carson and me on the steps.

From right to left - Carson, me, Regina, Annika, Ahmed.

I really like pictures of me jumping...

The view from the temple.

When in Rome...

Another picture with my Luxor sisters :)

From right to left: Ahmed, Amr, Mariam, Annika, Vero, me, Carson, Regina.

From right to left: Tony, Amr, Mariam, Annika, Vero, me, Carson, Regina. 

From the felucca.

We passed by Luxor Temple again on the walk to Mariam's home.

Our last group picture together at the party in Mariam's home. :'( 

January 29, 2013
Then we drove to the airport, said our painfully sad, final goodbyes to the incredible people that had hosted us in their homes, spent every waking moment with us, and gave us some pretty incredible memories in the process. By then they almost felt like family to us. It was really hard to leave it all behind, after such a short time. No one wanted to leave so soon. We all kept complaining and wishing that we could stay, that we could extend the trip, "miss" the flight, do anything to stay longer. But sadly, the moment had come. So we said our sad (and tearful) goodbyes, and then extremely reluctantly boarded our EgyptAir flight to Cairo.
Since no one had slept the night before, pretty much all four of us slept the whole flight away. I stayed up long enough to watch the takeoff, and I was out cold before the flight reached cruising altitude. I was awaken by the landing announcement an hour or so later.
Regina and I then said goodbye to Carson and Annika, and then were picked up by Fatma from Alexandria at the airport. The three of us took a bus together back to Alexandria, most of which was also spent sleeping. We arrived at about 2:30 pm, and shortly after three I was in my host family's home, where my host parents were waiting for me with open arms and smiles.

Like I have made quite clear already, leaving this incredible trip, and all the amazing people who made it so incredible for us, behind was very difficult. For the first day or two I felt really sad, because I had left unwillingly. Everyone had.
I was really sad for the first day or two because I was so desperate to go back. But then it got better. I still miss everyone a lot, and really want to go back. But it's not a sad feeling anymore, I just feel lucky that I got to live this wonderful experience that I did, and make all these memories, so I'm happy now (see the quote used in the name of this post). :)
Other than that, not much news. I spent the first few days after I got back resting at home, but for the past few days I've been going out with friends, having lots of fun, and taking advantage of my vacation!

That's all for now.
Hope that you all enjoyed reading about this fantastically fantastic trip, my readers.
Thanks for reading.
Love from Egypt,
Nico ^_^