Sunday, April 28, 2013

April update

Like I said in my last post, sorry I haven't been posting so much lately.
I guess it's just been a mixture of writer's block, lack of note-worthy activity, laziness, and just plain procrastination on my part.
I will try to post more regularly in my remaining months here.

In any case, I will now update you all on all the things I've done since April 7, the last time that I made a legitimate blog post.
Soon after my April 7th post, I finished my third quarter exams, and I've since gotten my report card back. I'd say I did a pretty good job, thankfully. :)

My report card, ladies and gentlemen. As usual, please disregard computer, music, and art. 

On April 12, I went with my host mother and some colleagues of hers to a park that's actually quite close to where I live, called Qariet el-Asad, which means something like "the Park of the Lion." It was a nice place with some wide fields, a restaurant area, and some animal enclosures containing an eagle, a vulture, porcupines, dogs, pigeons, monkeys, ostriches, camels, and (in a separate enclosure) lions.
We sat around chatting for quite a while, had something to eat, and then headed to a place where there was a sort of small circus, in which the lions were featured.
Overall, it was a nice place and a very fun day. The only thing that I didn't feel so good about was that the animals didn't have a whole lot of space in their enclosures, but other than that, I had fun.

                                     *No pictures from this one, unfortunately. Sorry!*

On the 17th, I went with a group of people from my school to an event at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The group and event were created for the people with the highest chemistry grades.
Initially, I was quite confused, as I had understood that we were going to the library in order to hear a well-known Egyptian scientist speak. But instead, when we arrived, we found a kind of science fair comprised of people from various schools and a few faculties of the University of Alexandria. Even so, it was interesting to see, as some people made some very interesting projects and were very clever presenters, and I had fun with the people from my school that I went with.

*No pictures from this one either, because, although there were pictures taken, one of the people there requested that they not be uploaded anywhere because they value their privacy, so I will respect that request. Please imagine a picture of me in front of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina with a group of classmates. :P*

On the 18th, I went out to the movies in a very upscale mall complex called San Stefano with a group of my Egyptian American friends from my school - Youssef, Hashem, Hashem's little brother Fares, and Fares's friend Adam. We saw an American action flick called "Olympus Has Fallen." In my opinion it wasn't particularly original, but it was very suspenseful and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Overall, I'd say it was a pretty good movie.
Afterwards, we all pitched in to buy some pizza from the food court, and enjoyed it together, laughing it up and having a great time. :)
I waited with them as they caught their trams to head back to their respective neighborhoods, and then hopped on a taxi and headed back to my home in Smouha.

From left to right: Me, Youssef, Hashem, and Fares (Adam had to leave earlier than the rest of us, so he's not pictured).

And again. :) 

Then on the 21st I went with my AFS returnee-volunteer/schoolmate/good friend Adham, who went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with AFS last year, to a play practice for a play that he's in to meet some of his friends.
Overall, in spite of the fact that I found the parts of the play itself that they practiced very hard to understand (it was in Standard Arabic), I had a good time, and I was able to catch a glimpse of something that I've very frequently seen in events at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina - a very energetic, creative, dynamic youth that create and enrich culturally, and give back to the community. It's something that I love to see, and something that really gives me home for the reformation and regeneration of this country after the Revolution and all.
I also met a few people who I really liked and was glad to have met.

                                                *No pics again. Sorry.*

Then the 22nd at school, there was a kind of celebration of Earth Day for the little kids (if I've failed to mention it before, Taymour is a K-12 school) that mostly consisted of playing games, painting, and just relaxing and having fun. Since my close friend Nehal, who I've surely mentioned before, was a volunteer, and I was free for most of that day since my class had Arabic subjects, she invited me to come along and see what was going on, and we helped the present teachers and volunteers keep the little kids in check and play games with them.
That was quite fun, a cool little memory, like many others I have of my time here. C:
          *No pictures of this since it was a school day and I hadn't thought to bring my camera.*

Other than that, same old-same old.
School. Having lots of fun with my friends there. Forming ever-closer bonds with my lovely host family. Learning more Arabic day by day. Skyping family and friends back in the USA. Going for walks in the lovely not-too-hot-and-not-too-cold Egyptian April, wandering aimlessly around the pretty little residential neighborhood of Smouha that I have come to love and call my second home. Going to calligraphy lessons, having interesting discussions in Arabic with my friendly and wise teacher, watching Turkish soap operas dubbed into Lebanese Arabic that he keeps on in the background, sipping a kind of instant coffee made by Nestle called Nescafe, all while writing rare and beautiful styles of Arabic calligraphy, gradually improving my abilities regarding that.
In other words, living my new life.
My Egyptian life.
Although after almost eight months, I suppose it's not really new anymore. It's almost become...simply life. Except life exactly 5825 miles and 9374 kilometers from the town where I was born and grew up.

My three day trip to Cairo merits another post all for itself, so I will make one for that soon and then after that, finally get cracking on that list of post ideas that I wrote in my March 10th post, and such.
Thanks for reading everybody!
And sorry again for my prolonged period of silence.
Bye for now,

PS: I'll leave you all with a song, one that I like a lot. I've been listening to it quite a bit lately, and I feel that it embodies my experience at this point pretty well. :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

أنا آسف

Or, in other words, I'm sorry.
More specifically, I'm sorry for not keeping you guys updated so much recently.

I'm headed off to Cairo for three days tomorrow! I promise that when I return from that trip I will update you all about my adventures here since the last time I wrote.

Sorry again.
Be back soon,

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Delays, delays, nothing but delays...

I've been experiencing some delays in blogging lately, mostly from the fact that I'm taking my third quarter exams this week, so I've had to continuously delay blogging. So I guess that this time I at least have something to blame for my lack of blogging other than my own procrastination.

Now, I have some time today to write that I will most definitely take advantage of, and I will do my best to sum up everything that has been going on in my life and experience here in Egypt since I last wrote, on the day of the bazaar.

One of the most notable things that has happened since that day, was that I went to Cairo to visit my host grandparents!
On the 22nd of March, my host mom and I headed to the same bus station in the neighborhood called Moharram Bey, where Regina and I boarded our bus to the Cairo Airport back in January, and we met up there with her aunt Karima, who I've mentioned before. After waiting a while and deciding to board the 11:00 o'clock bus instead of the 10:30 bus, we were on our way to Cairo.
Karima and my host mom sat together, and I sat in a different seat right next to them that no one ended up sitting in, so I fortunately had some extra room. :)
We made very good time, and were in Cairo just before 2:00 o'clock. We got off at a stop in the center of the city, near to Tahrir Square, and then took a taxi to my host grandparents' home.
They were waiting for us inside with open arms and smiles. :) I really like both of my host grandparents, and I feel like they have very different personalities that at the same time kind of complete each other:
My host grandfather Mansur is very noble, a little bit serious, and a real gentleman, while my host grandmother Ayda is very friendly, loves to laugh, and is hilariously funny.

On the first day, we didn't do much; we just stayed in and talked, getting to know each other, and were eventually joined by my host uncle Nabil, my host mom's brother. He is an English teacher and speaks English very well, and was also delighted to have an opportunity to have a person with which to speak English fluently. We ended up talking a lot about my experience in Egypt and the differences between the cultures of the Arab and Anglophone worlds.
After some delightfully deep and hilarious conversations over dinner and, subsequently, tea, we all headed off to bed and woke up metakhar giddan (really late xD) the next morning.

The next day, the 23rd, we were joined by Nabil's wife Abeer, and their little son Ehad. We all had some wonderful conversations over lunch together, and then that evening we were joined by Nabil and Abeer's daughter Lama and two sons, Adham and Nadim. Gathered together in their living room, we talked and laughed together for hours, especially when my host mother showed everyone something that made me laugh to no end when she showed it to me a few months ago: her (somewhat exaggerated) impressions of me, my host father, and both of my host brothers when we're coming home from work or school. XD That induced some laughter that didn't die out for a long time.
Another awesome moment in that evening was when we were watching a comedic video of someone singing exaggeratedly badly, and I jokingly said "Begad ana ba'raf aghanny ahla men keda!" (Really, I know how to sing better than this), and so they challenged me to. And I took them up on it, singing first a little piece of one of my favorite Italian songs, "A te (To you)" by Jovanotti, and then a piece of one of my favorite songs in general, "Two is better than one" by Boys Like Girls.
That was definitely a very special moment and a very special evening, one that stands out as one of the best nights of my entire exchange so far. I definitely think this also goes on the list of days in my exchange that I will never forget.

The next day, the 24th, was the day that we originally intended to leave. Loay, my host cousin Adham, and I went out together for a walk around the city, which, incidentally, ended up taking us very near to the Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square. We tried to get into the Egyptian Museum, but unfortunately it had closed only an hour before and we weren't able to. :( As for Tahrir, not a lot seemed to be going on in it. That's not to say, of course, that I would have gone there alone - some of the people there looked pretty sketchy, and the facade of the former headquarters of the political party which dominated the government during the Mubarak years which faced the square was quite ominously defaced and charred, which Loay told me was a result of grenades thrown at it by protesters during the revolution back in 2011.
Afterwards, we moved away from that whole area and tried to get ourselves onto a felucca, but we ended up running out of time and decided to forgo that. The three of us then continued walking and went passed the Cairo Opera, then we got pretty lost for a while trying to find a metro stop to take back home, and after we finally found the stop, took the metro, and found ourselves at home, we still had to eat and pack our things. In the end, we decided that it was too late to go home to Alexandria that night, because if we had, we might have ended up there as late as 4:00 am. So, Loay went home since he had work the next day, and my host mother and I decided to take that day off from her work and my school.

The next day, the 24th, was spent mostly packing and preparing to go back to Alexandria. But in typical Egyptian fashion, we ended up getting down to business much later than we'd planned. xD
After lunch, we said goodbye to Teita and Giddu ("Grandma" and "Grandpa" in Arabic, respectively), Karima, my host mother, and I made our way to the nearest bus station, and immediately boarded the 6 o'clock SuperJet bus back to Alexandria.
It ended up taking a painstakingly long time to get out of Cairo, because for the longest time, we were caught in INFURIATINGLY AWFUL bumper-to-bumper traffic, which Cairo is notorious for (what do you expect in a city of almost 20 million?). We didn't make it out of the city limits of Cairo until 8 o'clock. Thankfully, from there on out it was mostly smooth sailing, and we arrived at the bus station in Moharram Bey at 10 o'clock, and were back at home at about 10:30.
Here are some pictures:

The sunset from Teita and Giddu's balcony 

A mosque that I saw during my walk with Loay and Adham

An Armenian Catholic church that I saw on that same walk - not very far away at all from the mosque above.

We got inside a felucca, but ended up leaving early without actually moving from the dock because we were running out of time. 

A zoomed in view of Cairo Tower. 

Then in the next days, not a lot happened.
A couple of regular school days that consisted of fun times with friends, but were also contained much higher quantities of make-up work than I would have liked, not much more.

That is, until the 29th -
The always awesome former AFSer in Alexandria from Germany, Lisa Wolleschensky, was visiting Egypt again recently for her host sister's wedding, and so we decided to meet up again!
This time, I was invited for a day of sightseeing with Lisa and her parents, Gunter and Claudia, and her sister Lara. We started off our day at Qaitbey, and I was quite late due to the fact that, in true Egyptian fashion, I overslept. xP So we basically just met up at Qaitbey, and since they had already been inside, and I'd seen it before aslan (anyway), we decided to continue on to our next destination: the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
We first stopped for some lunch at Cilantro, a nearby cafe, and then went inside the library itself, which was something that I really enjoyed seeing, as I myself have only been inside the library itself twice. I even got to assist Lisa in her role as "tour-guide" for her family since I had a bit of prior knowledge of the place too. :)
Afterwards, we met up with a volunteer in the local chapter, named Bahaa (or as he is often nicknamed, "Boo") and then headed off to our next destination: the Catacombs of Kom el-Shoqafa.
Here is a link to the Wikipedia page so you can get some additional information about the catacombs, but I will say that this site consists of a series of tombs, statues, and other important archaeological objects that were discovered inside of an underground complex in 1900 by a donkey falling through the access shaft. According to tradition, the complex was built to bury the remains of humans and animals massacred by the order of the Roman Emperor Caracalla in 215 AD.
Visiting this place was definitely a very surreal experience. Like many of the places I visited in Luxor back in January, the history inside was tangible.
There were lots of wall paintings and statues that were unmistakably ancient Egyptian, and others that were very much Greco-Roman. It was an interesting blend. Moreover from that, it was just odd to see all of the spaces in the wall that were once the final resting place of multitudes of people. And that all of this was quite literally inside the Earth - it was a little creepy at times, but amazing, and I'm definitely glad that I saw this monument.
I also had a really good time with the Wolleschenskys - as usual I had a great time talking with Lisa, and I also was very happy that I got to meet and befriend her very sweet family. :)
All in all, it was a lovely day.

Then, in the week after that, there's not much else to report.
However, on the 5th of April, this past Friday, I attended an AFS event in Cairo for the day called "El-Leila El-Kebira (The Big Night)," which was essentially a gathering organized by AFS alumni as both a get-together for AFS alumni and participants, and as a kind of venue for youth involved in non-profit projects or organizations to spread the word about whatever they're involved in.
I went with many people from the AFS Alex chapter, including: My host mom, Adham, Youssef, Hanya (the daughter of my counselor Gina), Fatma, three future AFS participants that will hopefully travel to the USA in the fall named Maram, Rowan, and Nada, Nagwa (the chapter president), and a few other miscellaneous people. We all met up in the meeting point, which was a particular street in Ibrahmeya, a neighborhood very near to Smouha, and then took the microbus that we had rented to Cairo.
The drive over was actually really fun. Everyone was ready for a great day, and there was a lot of energy. A large part of the drive was spent singing - Adham, who can carry a tune, I must say, sang a lot of old Arabic music, and then I also sang an Italian song called "E tu (And you)" by one of my favorite Italian singers, Lucio Battista, and another song that I'm a big fan of, "Say you like me" by We the Kings. Maram, who goes to a French school, also sang a piece of a French song for us.
Apart from singing, lots of talking and laughing happened as well - I guess that's one thing that's inevitable when you put lots of like-minded teenagers together, no matter what country you're in. :)
However, the drive did end up being quite long, as it took two hours to get from the Alexandria city limits to the Cairo city limits, and then we had to put up with nearly three hours stuck in the infamous, excruciatingly slow Cairo traffic, since El-Leila El-Kebira was located very deep inside the city.
After that, we finally arrived at the event just over an hour late, and then dived right in.
Lucie and her friend Hannah who was visiting her from England came to the event briefly, and I was very happy to be able to see them and say hi again.
I also was able to see some alumni who I met in Luxor and Aswan who study in Cairo, and also meet some new Cairene alumni who I hadn't met before.
The people that I definitely spent the most time with and had the most fun with, however, were definitely Carson and Annika.
We spent hours together, talking and laughing hysterically about our shared experiences as exchange students in this beguiling but amazing country, and reminiscing of all the other fun times we've had together since we arrived here.
I really do wish that lots of people would come to Egypt on exchange again and not be afraid to do so, as I've said many times. But, honestly, it's kind of nice that we're such a small, tight-knit little group; we've become very close friends and it feels so nice that we're so close and comfortable with each other now. I had such a good time with them, and miss them already. :)
At about seven, we decided to get an early move-on and head back to Alex. At the beginning of the drive, our energy was not yet dead, so we started to play some games: Movies (Arabic style), and telephone in both English and Arabic, both of which ended up producing some hilarious results and lots and LOTS of laughter. :D It was crazy and amazing and so much fun; one of the most special moments (and the day in general was one of the most special days) of my whole exchange.
We then stopped in a large mall on the outskirts of Cairo to grab a quick bite to eat - I, like most of those present, opted for my culinary love, koshary. To my delight, I also caught sight of a PinkBerry inside the mall (I love frozen yogurt and have missed it quite a bit) - I immediately seized my chance and purchased a delicious cup of frozen yogurt (and then awkwardly realized that I didn't have enough money to pay it...Ma'lish...:| ). :D
Then we continued on to Alexandria, and I think it's fair to say that our energy almost finally gave way, but we were able to keep it alive for quite a while.
We finally arrived at the city limits at approximately midnight, and then my host mother and I were back at home at 10 minutes to 1 am.

The next days have been devoid of newsworthy things.
Apart from the fact that I've been taking my quarter tests this week and last week. I feel like I've done fairly well on most of the ones that I've taken so far. And I sincerely hope that this trend continues.

One last thing: I would like to apologize for the considerable lack of photos in this post. Although, I think that there is one positive spin that it's possible to put on this fact:
In the beginning I felt a need to document every last little thing in great detail, and include photos and explanations of everything I was doing and seeing. But now, I don't feel the same need or drive to do so anymore, because life here feels normal, it's something that in some odd way, I've become accustomed to.
I don't mean to say that I take being here for granted; I never ceased to be amazed or in awe of the things that I'm able to see and experience by living here.
But after living here for exactly seven months (I arrived in Egypt seven months ago today, as it turns out), many things that used to seem so exotic and eye-popping to me when I got here - the wide spectrum of dress and political/religious beliefs, the palm trees, the call to prayer, the crowded streets, all the contrasts that I mentioned in my one-month post, and stuff like that, hardly make me blink anymore. They're still amazing, of course, but just not astounding and new like they were in the first days. I'm taking this - and the lack of pictures for most of what I've written about in this post - to be good signs, as they display a successful adjustment. :)

Well, that's all.
Hope you enjoyed my overdue ramblings.
Love from Egypt as usual,