Thursday, March 21, 2013

AFS videos, goodbyes, Egyptian Mother's Day, and Taymour bazaar

Well, once again, it's been far too long since I last blogged, and this time there is quite a lot to report.
So, let's get down to it!

So last week, on Saturday, a few people from the AFS office in Cairo came, as we had been planning for a little while, to make a video about my experience here (they've been trying to make one for one of the AFSers here this year, and I was honored with the privilege): Dalia Sherif, who was present at our six-week orientation back in October, and Mohamed El-Betity, who was present at the arrival orientation on the very first day.
Accompanied by Hanya, the daughter of my counselor, who went to Minnesota two years ago, Adham, Fatma, and Shehab, who went to Oregon three years ago, we took some shots in various places in Alexandria - Qaitbey Castle, the Bibliotheca Alexandria, and so on. We then went to the area called downtown to eat in a restaurant called Hosny, where we had a really nice meal and talked/laughed a lot. :) Then we went to sit in a cafe called Oceans for a little while and have some drinks and desert.
The next day they came to Taymour to take some shots of me at school, interview one of my friends (the one chosen was my Egyptian American friend Youssef), then interview a teacher (which ended up being my English teacher), and then took a video of me presenting my English project for the quarter about what I've learned in Egypt.
Except for some stupid, immature people that were impeding them in their work, we got everything done quickly and efficiently.
Later, they came to take some shots of me at home with my host family, and interview my host family, which I'd say also went swimmingly.

But that very same day, something really sad also happened:
My host brother Khaled left the country. :"(
He's going to live in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for six months with his work. And isn't going to return to Egypt at all until September - which will be, obviously, long after I'll have returned to the USA, so I won't see him again. :'(
Ever since he left, it's felt really strangely emptier around here. I find myself unable to get used to it; I doubt that I ever will.
All I can say is, I hope that he finds success and happiness in every moment of his time there, and I'll see him when I come back to Egypt in the future. :)

After that, there isn't much to report in the other days of the week.
That is, until today.
Now, you see, Taymour hosts an event annually called a bazaar, where, essentially, there are no lessons, people come out of uniform, guests are welcome to attend, and the school is lined with people selling food, and mother's day gifts, since today was Mother's Day in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, and there are entertainers.
So I attended, and made use of all these things. :)
I had a lot of fun with Nehal, the Egyptian Americans, and my AFS returnee friends Adham and Youssef. Additionally, a friend of ours named Ahmed, who is both a Taymour alumnus and an AFS alumnus, revisited the school to attend the bazaar today, so we got to hang out with him.
I also bought two Mother's Day gifts for my host mom from one of the stands, sold to me by a really sweet girl named Amira who graduated from Taymour two years ago and is now in college. I got to eat a lot of tasty food that was being sold as well. I had a great time with friends.
And overall, for the most part, had a fun day. :)

I don't have any pictures of my own, unfortunately, because I forgot to bring my camera. But I know that some classmates of mine took pictures that will end up on the Taymour website, and I know that some of my friends took pictures. SO, I will either post a link to the pictures on the website, or post them here (along with any that I can mooch off my friends :P).

That's all.
Sorry I've been lazy about writing as usual lately.
I will get better about that. And I WILL begin that list that I posted a while ago, soon.
Until next time,

Thursday, March 14, 2013

June 28, 2013

Well, the list of posts that I will make, that I made in my last post, is being temporarily put on hold, because I have received my return ticket information.
And I know when I'm going to leave.

The day in the title. June 28, 2013, is the day that I leave the country that has become a second home to me.
I really don't know what else to say about it, except that it took me completely and totally by surprise.
I was just casually checking my email yesterday evening, and I saw an email from AFS in the top that contained the words "return ticket information."
And it honestly hit me like a punch to the stomach.
I had absolutely no idea that it would be coming this early; I had thought that it would come at least at the end of this month, if not next month. So I really was not expecting it.
And in all honesty, I really wasn't ready to know.
As I've made quite clear before, I love my life here and the idea of leaving it behind utterly and completely terrifies me, and I had been thinking about it a lot lately.
This new, added bit only added to my paranoia about it.
I really could have done without knowing what day that wretched plane that will drag me out of here is going to leave.
It's funny how forward I was looking to receiving the email containing my outbound flight information last July, all those months ago, versus how negatively surprised I was to get my return information now.
I think I will take this opportunity to introduce you all to an interesting Arabic saying: "Ya nahar eswed," which literally means "Oh black morning" and is an expression used to express negatively surprised feelings. I felt that it applied here.
I'm doing my best not to think about it though. It's still three and a half months away, and that's the  important thing, right? There are still three and a half months left of amazing experiences to be had, amazing things to do...I mustn't get to caught up with my fear of leaving, yet.

I really don't know what else to say...We're flying Lufthansa and connecting in Frankfurt. The plane leaves from Cairo ridiculously early (4:10 AM), which makes me tired just thinking about it...
But these are really petty details that I really am not too concerned with. I'm trying not to concern myself too much with the idea of leaving in general. You all know how I feel about it.

Well, that's all, really.
I felt that I should notify you all of this particular news.
I'll be back soon and start off the list from the last post.
Ma as-salama,

PS: Please note that I am not a heartless person and my outlook on going home is not entirely gloomy. I am looking quite forward to seeing my family and my good friends again. It's just that I love my family, friends, and life here so much that I'm really afraid of leaving it behind. That's all.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

...I don't blog enough...

Sorry for really slacking on blogging since the new year everyone...
Like I keep saying though, not tons of riveting things have been happening though, so that's my excuse.

And for the most part, it really does continue to hold true.
As usual, I've got great things to say about how I continue to have heaps of fun with my friends in school, and I continue to feel increasingly relaxed and settled in, in school, with my family, and in my life here in this country - and this country itself - in general.
But for the most part, no particularly interesting new things to report have gone down since the last time I've posted here.
Until, that is, last Wednesday.
So, last Wednesday holds a bit of an interesting story. Basically, it started off as a completely normal day. Granted, I did see a group of people chasing each other in the streets near to my school from my school bus window, which was a bit nerve-wracking and startling.
But school started off quite normally and that whole incident was quickly pushed far back into my mind.
Until, that is, the break that we have in the middle of every school day, in which it was very randomly announced to the student body that there was a gas shortage crisis due to unwise spending on the part of the government, so the school buses would not be operating that day after school, and then neither Thursday nor Sunday (today).
Very confused and concerned about how in the world I was going to get myself back home, I called my host mother and averted her of the problem. We talked of how I could get home, and she suggested that I try to get back with one of my AFS volunteer friends that are in school with me. But fortunately, before I even had a chance to go asking around, my always-amazing friend Nehal offered me a ride home (seeing as our two apartment buildings are easily within 500 yards of each other), which I, of course, gratefully accepted.
So, after the break, the two of us, along with the big group of Egyptian Americans that I've mentioned before - Youssef, Hashem, and Hashem's two younger siblings, Fares and Farida, all crowded into the library while we waited for our rides.
I was very confused, and under the impression that I was skipping. But everyone else assured me that after that sudden announcement of the absence of buses, the entire student body had surely notified their parents and asked to be picked up as soon as possible, so the school day was as good as over.
Once Nehal's mother had arrived, the two of us left the library and then fetched her two younger sisters from their classes, met up with her mom, and then as soon as she had gotten the necessary permission to take us, we crowded into the car and made our way over to Smouha.
As we waited outside the registration office, and then walked out of the school gates to get inside the car, I realized that what the others had told me about the school day being effectively over was no joke: parents galore were lining up inside the registration office to get the permission slips required to fetch their children, crowds of kids were hurrying over to the registration office to get picked up, and cars were lined all the way up and down the entire entrance lot outside the school.
In any case, we all had a pleasant chat on the way back, and the drive back to Smouha was much shorter than usual (technically, we only live ten to fifteen minutes away from Taymour, but usually, with all the stops our school bus has to make, it takes about thirty). Once we arrived, I thanked them all profusely for their beautiful and much appreciated kindness, and then got back home, and...didn't do much at all. I canceled my calligraphy lesson that had been previously planned, since there were apparently some protests against the government for their wasteful spending that had initiated the gas shortage crisis. So I instead just stayed home, relaxed, and Skyped with my friend from back home, Shauna, who, since she was staying after school, carried her iPad around a bit so I could see the school and say goodbye to other friends. :D It was definitely quite strange to see my school again...
In any case, after that I also had the chance to Skype with REGINA! :D Hearing from her always makes me feel really happy inside. It just feels great to catch up with my "sister" and know how everything is going for her. It still feels weird not to have her here...:(
But it was amazing to catch up as usual. :)

Then Friday I went out with my AFS returnee friend Adham, and we went out to this really lovely area of Alexandria near a place called Stanley Bridge, and met up with his friends in a McDonald's where they were doing a math project, ate some ice cream, and then met up with some nice girls who are going to travel to the US with AFS this coming school year. :D

On Saturday (yesterday :P), I had the pleasure of meeting two really awesome people who I've been in touch with for some time now: a former AFSer named Lucie who went to Osny, France, in the 2009-2010 year, and is currently studying Arabic in Cairo for a semester of university, and her roommate, a really sweet English girl named Zoe.
(They're on a week-long trip here in Alex.)
We met up in front of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and then sat in a cafe next to it called Cilantro, where we then all got something to drink, and then were treated to a really lovely sunset over the sea (which unfortunately then morphed into a notably chilly night), and basically talked endlessly about our experiences in this country - things we've learned, things we love, things we don't so much, people we've met, et cetera.
It was really amazing to get to meet two such amazing people, and I'm so happy I got the chance. :)
After that, once I got home, I was able to Skype a friend of mine from my school back home, and then two close friends of mine that I've known since my childhood, and then my parents. :)

And today was devoid of any strenuous activity. xD
Although I did have a really nice and rare opportunity to have breakfast together with my host father. :) And then the weather outside was quite nice, so I did go out for a short walk around while buying some lemons from a street vendor for my host mother.
That's all there is to really report these days.
I promise to post more frequently. :P I already have three ideas for posts that I will make in the near future, especially as fillers until I have something really eventful or interesting to report:
  • A post about the view from my host family's balcony (corny, I know, but I really love it)
  • A post of nice, miscellaneous pictures that I've taken in the past few months that I haven't posted here
  • A post talking about the emotions that one feels on exchange 
  • A post about Egyptian food
And now some pictures from the first of my two major outings in this unplanned four-day weekend, to Stanley Bridge: 

And now for some pictures from the second of my two major outings this weekend, to the Bibliotheca with Lucie and Zoe:

And now I'll leave you with a song!
Now, I know that this is a bit of a corny choice on my part, but hear me out: I've been, for whatever reason, watching clips (and will get around to watching entire) movies that I loved in my childhood lately, and one of those that came up was "The Lion King 2," which this song comes from. And while it is corny, it really did remind me that, since I really have started to feel completely at home in my family here and increasingly close to my friends at school, in many ways, we are one. :3
So, first, here's the English version:
Now, since I feel that the language of the country I'm living in should rightfully be represented, here's the Arabic version:
And this might seem a bit more random, but in honor of my amazing German friends that I've met here via AFS, I'm also going to post the German version:

Well, that's all for now.
I'll try to be back soon enough with one of those future posts that I mentioned earlier in this one.
Hope that you all thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, because I quite enjoyed writing it. :3
Be back soon!
Love from Alexandria as usual,
Nico ^^

Friday, March 1, 2013

My life lately

Again, I apologize for not writing so much recently.
I will reiterate that for the most part, not a huge amount of new or exiting things have been going on, which is why I'm not in the habit of posting so much.
In any case, let's examine what's been going on in my life here lately...

Well, firstly, I guess the biggest change in my life is that Regina returned to Germany on the 22nd of February.
I think it goes without saying that this is really the most (although thankfully, the only) negative thing in my recent life.
It was painful to say goodbye to someone who has been such an amazing and close friend every day for almost six months, who I've had so much fun with. I am really happy to still be here for a good four months, but my experience won't be quite the same.
In any case, I'm staying positive about it for the most part, because this summer, after I return to the USA, I will be going on vacation for several weeks in Italy to visit my relatives, and since Italy and Germany are relatively close to each other, we have vowed that, inshallah, we will try to meet up somewhere. :D
I can't wait to see my German sister again. :3 <3

Then last weekend, I met up with some people that I met through the epitome of an "It's a small world after all" kind of story: My dad, who was visiting my grandparents in New Jersey, was dining with them in a Turkish restaurant called Sahara that we had all eaten in together back in September before I came here to Egypt, and while chatting with one of the owners, discovered that he was half Turkish and half Egyptian, and that he has a home and relatives in Alexandria and would be returning here soon for a visit! So through my dad, he promised an invitation for a fantastic lunch, and put me in contact with his college-age nephew Mohammed. So the next day, I went out with Mohammed and his two friends Kareem and Omar, and we got a little something to eat from a Syrian restaurant (there are a lot of them here, because refugees from Syria often have come here to Egypt to escape their war-torn homeland, and many of them end up opening restaurants). It was fun!

Other than that, I'm delighted to report to you all that school for me has been getting progressively better and better all last week. I kept having fun with my friends, and I continuously feel more comfortable and confident in my environment there. And, just as importantly, happy. :) I would daresay that I even...enjoy going to school now.
Which is something that six months ago, when I first started, I never would have imagined. And I'm so proud of how far I've come since that awful first day.
I remember I had a thought in my head in class on the first day of, "how on Earth am I going to be able to come back here every day if it feels like this?" and I had to keep clutching the beautifully decorated pen that my friend Brent had given me as a goodbye present, for some motivation and strength to keep going without breaking down.
That feels so far away now. If someone had told me on the first day that I would feel like I do now about going to school, I would have thought that they were crazy. But now, it feels wonderful that I enjoy going there. That's more than I ever could have hoped for after that first day, and I'm so proud to say it. :')
In another piece of school related randomness, French is starting to grow on me. I learn French here in school, and previously I didn't find myself so engrossed by it for some reason. But now I'm starting to slowly open up to it, and it's growing on me! I definitely am going to make more of an effort to retain it now. I will still principally focus on improving my Arabic, taba'an (of course), but I certainly will make much more of an effort to gain knowledge from my French class here. :)

Also, yesterday I was invited to go out by a boy my age who lives in my apartment building, called Youssef, and some of his friends. I had met him briefly back in September, but we hadn't really spoken much since then, so it came as a surprise, but, of course, I immediately accepted.
Let's just say that I made a great decision to accept. :D
Youssef and I first went over to his church (he's Coptic), and he showed me around inside it a little bit. I honestly have a thing for Coptic churches - the smell of incense, the prayers and chants in Coptic (which, as I mentioned in my Aswan post, is a language that I find amazing and fascinating), the beautiful decorations and architecture, et cetera...But he also took me further in, and showed me a place in the church complex with a cafeteria, and activities for youth and children, such as pool and ping pong tables, and even a special gym-like room in which to play soccer. It was great to have a way into this nice little world that I didn't even know existed.
One thing that I found interesting, was that this place for youth to hang out in the church reminded me a lot of Italy. This is because, in Italy, churches will often have places attached to them or in them, called an oratorio, with similar activities for youth and children. When I visit Italy, I often hang out with my friends in the various oratori (that's the plural form) present in my family's town.
So that was an interesting little parallel that I found.
In any case, we then went to a nearby McDonald's to join his friends - Mina, Mark, and Abanoub, who actually goes to Taymour! I had seen him before in school, but we hadn't met. It turns out that he is in my friend Nehal's class! Small world...
We had a little something to eat there, and then went to a cyber (I can't think of the right's like an Internet cafe, minus the cafe part...basically it's a place with computers where you go to use the Internet, print stuff, copy stuff, and so on) and played some computer games before returning to the church to hang out and play a little soccer.
It was honestly a fun night, and I ended a good day on a great note after having had a great time and made some new friends. :D  I can't wait to do it again sometime. :)

I've also been invited to go with them to the same church for their Easter celebration, which I am already looking forward to immensely.

That's it, I think...
Well, thank you all again for reading, and since I haven't been doing this quite as much lately, I will leave you all with a song again!
This is one of my favorite Arabic songs of all time, and it and the artist merit a little explanation before I include the video itself in the post. :P
The song is called "Helwa ya Balady," which means something like "Beautiful, oh my country." Yeah, my translation doesn't make sense, but oh well. :P
In any case, the song is by an Italian Egyptian artist who lived in France for much of her life, called Dalida.
She was born to Italian parents from Serrastretta, Calabria, Italy, in Cairo, and lived there in her early years, and lived in Paris for much of her adult life.
Apart from her talent and the fact that she is from both of my "other countries" (Italy and Egypt), I also admire her for being a perfect embodiment of the cosmopolitanism of the Mediterranean, that flourished in Egypt in her time, as I mentioned in my post from last July about Alexandria. She's a great artist, and this is a great song, in which Dalida basically talks about Egypt and how much she loves her country. Which I think is really beautiful. I heard it on the TV for the first time in a while today (which is what made me decide to include it in this post, since I haven't already), and it moved me almost to tears.
Anyway, kefaya kalam (enough talking)! Here it is:
Hope you guys like it!
Thanks for reading as usual.
Bye for now!