Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lazy Days on the Beaches of the Red Sea

Ok, so I've fallen a bit behind in my travel adventures, and I'm determined to rectify this. I will start with Emily and my trip to Nuweiba at the beginning of October. For those of you unfamiliar with remote Middle Easters geography, Nuweiba is located on the northern part of the eastern shore of the Sinai peninsula, near Israel and directly across from Saudi Arabia. It is also the only part of Egypt in Asia. Another continent I can check off the list! We left at night and woke up to the sunrise over the Arabian mountains after a 9 hour bus ride. As if this place weren't far enough away, our bus had to back-track to another resort because some luggage was lost along the way and there were check points every ten minutes. Often at these road blocks a man with a gun would get on the bus and check our passport or ticket or both. This is a direct result from terrorist activity in the area in the last five years.

Soft Beach 
We finally arrived at our camp, Soft Beach, which was recommended to us by Mainer, Rebecca Campbell. We were greeted with breakfast, a cold lemon juice, and cats. The camp consisted of about thirty wooden huts on the beach, a restaurant, and a few shaded bungalow-inspired structures. We splurged for the big hut, changed into our suits and headed straight for the beach, which was a good fifty feet away, I know, what a hike.  Our day was spent sleeping off the bus ride, soaking up the sun, and swimming in the Red Sea. The beach was beautiful, well kept, and we had an amazing view of the mountains of Saudi Arabia right across the water. At my Grandma and Grandpa Shattow's request I did try to part the waters of the Red Sea, but alas, I had no staff and was therefore unsuccessful. I'm sure, had I had a staff, parting the seas as Moses did would not have been a problem... I am, after all, half Jewish. After spending three days there, I'm fairly certain that the Jews did not get lost in the desert for 40 years, but were actually just chilling on the beach and eventually figured they should move on. When asked where they were, "being lost in the desert" was just a cover-up story to the fact that they were beach bumming it in paradise. It makes sense.

Happy Cat
The restaurant was open all day and very casual. The tables were maybe a foot and a half off the floor and there were cushioned booths and pillows everywhere. The cats running around were very friendly, especially when you had food in front of you. All meals were served with a spray bottle to keep away the unwanted furry attention. The food was very good and the restaurant provided a central place to get to know other guests. I should mention that Nuweiba is quite literally in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! There is no town, nearby really, and the closest thing you can walk to is yet another camp a little farther down on the beach. You are forced to relax and enjoy yourself because, well, there is nothing else to do. Meeting people was really the only activity we did our first day. We met a lovely British couple who met at a pub in rural England. She moved to Egypt to do something with her degree in Arabic, while he had plans to start work for his cousin the next week in Dubai. We met them when they had just begun their first bottle of wine, joined them when they started their fourth, and retired for the evening after they had finished their seventh.

Man with Camel Talking to Snorkel Man
The second day snorkel man finally convinced us to go snorkeling. If only we could have convinced him to not go with us. He swam us out to the coral reef, which was quite a sight. I only wish that he hadn't been dragging me along the whole time, dude, I know how to swim, I went to summer camp. He also picked up several objects which I'm pretty sure were alive and pissed off something that released a certain neon purple goo into the water which stuck to us and stung. To top it all off, snorkel man insisted that he had to touch every type of coral (illegal) and encouraged us to do the same (still illegal). He even broke off a piece of coral so that we could take it home with us (no thank you, I do not want an illegally-obtained piece of dead coral). We did get to see some very cool fish and it was impressive, despite our incompetent guide.

We headed to dinner to enjoy our last night at our oasis. We met a very friendly Austrian woman by the name of Martha (yes, JUST like Sound of Music). She has a vacation house in Egypt. Why? I'm not sure, but I suppose if the Nazi's ever invade again, she can just head to Egypt as opposed to Vermont. We were pretty much warn out from doing nothing all day, so we decided to call it an early night. Just when we had made the decision to head to bed, who should show up but a band of bedouin musicians! They had come over from a neighboring camp where they worked and brought with them a group of guys who were spending the week there. Two of them asked if they could sit with us, we said sure. Through lovely, slightly-impeded-by-language-barrier-small talk, we found out that they were both co-pilots on a major Middle Eastern airline. This was hard to believe because they seemed not much older than Emily and myself, but sure enough, they showed us their IDs. They then proceeded to roll a joint of hash and smoke up. This was a little disconcerting on two counts. First, thanks to the Austrian woman's fascination with taking pictures of her "new friends," I'm fairly certain I can never run for public office. Second, does the airline they work for not drug test? The restaurant manager came over and told them that they were not allowed to smoke hash at the camp, but then it turned out that one of the guys with the band may or may not have been the son of the owner of the camp that we were at, so once again hash was kosher. The night was spent dancing and clapping along to the music of the bedouin musicians. People from Palestine, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Austria, and the US all just enjoying a world away from their own.

The next afternoon we had to leave. We were incredibly nervous about catching the bus home because we were told to just go out to the major road and flag it down when it drove by, which would be around 3:00pm... ish. We managed to successfully hop on the bus and get our tickets and we made it home to Cairo by the end of the night. Fortunately, while we were gone, our landlady had arranged for our apartment to be fumigated. We have been dealing with the very miserable situation of bed bugs. Bed bugs are EVIL. They live in your matrices, in your bed frame, and headboard and come out and bite you while you are sleeping. Their bites are little, but they leave marks and itch really badly. Try falling asleep knowing that the minute you close your eyes, you're going to be eaten. At one point during the epidemic, I had over fifty bites all over my body, yeah, it was that bad. Fortunately they have been vanquished from our beds and our home. It was probably the best thing that I could come home to and at least a small consolation prize for leaving the beach. We arrived home with our skin darker, our hair lighter, and considerably more relaxed, the entire weekend costing us less than $50.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Pearl of the Mediterranean

Our trip up to Alexandria went swimmingly... in the Mediterranean, that is. I absolutely fell in love with the city, but I suspect that part of its charm is that is simply was not Cairo. Alexandria has a much more Mediterranean vibe about it with brightly colored boats in the harbor and a white stone castle on the shore, it almost felt like Greece, minus the fact that everyone is Egyptian. We took the 9am train from Cairo to Alexandria. It took two hours and cost 50 LE for a first-class ticket (less than $10). We checked into Le Metropole Hotel and set off to explore. Le Metropole Hotel is the very definition of "old world charm." The ceilings are 15ft high and there are huge mirrors in every hallway that are just as tall. We were greeted with juice and escorted to the elevator. The elevator has not been renovated in I'm guessing 60 years. Perhaps a repair here or there, but the general integrity of the apparatus remains very much the same as I imagine it did when it was built. This also means that it got stuck about five times during our two nights there (thankfully never with us in it), and took about five minutes to come when we needed it. The room was gorgeous and once we had settled in and explored the view from our balcony, we set off in search of our last Ramadan lunch of shame.

The last time I will ever feel guilty about eating lunch
Following the helpful narrative of the guide book, we found ourselves at The Fish Market, a touristy (yet still 10x more authentic than any tourist restaurant in the US) seafood restaurant. At this point, we had been up for about six hours with out food so we were starving. By the time we got there our eyes were about three times bigger than our stomachs. We ordered salad and bread and then went to the fish counter to select our meal. They had all different types of fish (all caught fresh that morning), lobster, prawns, muscles, and oysters. I chose a sea bass and had it grilled with tomatoes and seasoned with Egyptian spices. The bread platter was quite possibly the most amazing thing I have eaten since getting here to Egypt. It came with six different types of dipping sauces, including hummus and baba ghanoush, that were each spectacular. The pitas came fresh out of the oven and were puffed to perfection. The salad was delicious too and by the time our fish came out (mine still had it's head on eyeballs included), we were full. But we persevered and finished our meals while enjoying the view of blue skies, bright water, and colorful boats of the harbor.

The Citadel of Qaitbey
After lunch we walked the length of the shore all the way around to Fort Qaitbey (aka The Citadel of Qaitbey) at the end of the point. The Citadel was built in the 1480s at the sight of the Pharos Lighthouse, which is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Citadel is even rumored to have used some of the stones from the lighthouse, which was destroyed in storm or fire or earthquake like almost all of the other wonders, in its construction. We had a really great time exploring the deserted castle and enjoying the ocean breeze from the outer walls. It's amazing how well preserved the Citadel is, although in retrospect that is why it was built.

Day two began with some serious confusion as to what time it was. During Ramadan, daylight savings time is given up and the clock is set back one hour. Thankfully, we did wake up in time for a filling complimentary breakfast at the hotel. It wasn't until after we had stocked up on carbs for the day that we realized that food would now be bountiful in the streets and it was once again alright to eat during the day! Our day was perfect, minus a minor ass-grabbing incident. We put on our swim suites and headed over to the Four Seasons Hotel. We paid for beach access and spent the whole day laying on the private beach. Whenever we would get hot we could just run right into the ocean. Swimming in the Mediterranean was wonderful. We just rode the waves and the temperature of the water was refreshing, but not cold. It was such a relief to just sit and not be hassled, or stared, or honked at. Peace and quiet.

A rather large sunburn later we stopped by the mall next to the hotel and I invested in an Egyptian cotton skirt. I have a new obsession with cotton. It's slowly taking over my wardrobe and I'm ok with that. We were feeling so good from our pampered day at the beach that when we went out for the night I decided to go bold and wear my new skirt. Bad idea. The long weekend after Ramadan brought vacationers from all over Egypt and the streets of Alexandria felt just as crowded as the ones in Cairo. Our hotel happened to be on the most popular corner in town for boys between the ages of ten and eighteen. Two particularly bold teens tried to approach us, but we just asked them to walk along. Being of that invincible age, our requests to be left alone fell on their deaf ears and one of them felt that grabbing my butt would help his case. Not at all, buddy. I was very upset because I'm really into personal space and not being groped. This guy apparently had no regard for either of my preferences. Thankfully, the restaurant was right around the corner. I kept my head down the whole time to avoid making eye contact with anyone on the street in hopes of not attracting any additional unwanted attention, but alas three American girls walking through the streets unaccompanied will most likely never go unnoticed. The Greek restaurant was discouraging by appearance, but the food was very good. We watched the sunset over the Citadel from the window and enjoyed not being on the street with the rowdy teens of the town. Emily ran back to the hotel after dinner to get me a pair of jeans and we decided to go back to the Four Seasons to enjoy their roof top bar.

It was there, at the bar in Alexandria where I met my future husband, Mohammed. He was our waiter and could poor beer better than anyone else I've ever seen, it was really a talent. Speaking of weddings, there were newly weds left and right all over the city. Our cab driver explained that you weren't allowed to get married during Ramadan. I loved seeing all of the brides. Lauren even took it upon herself to tell the guy sitting next to us at the Four Seasons that the bride in the hall was beautiful. Turns out he wasn't from the wedding, but hey, she got to use her excellent Arabic skills.

Our final day in Alexandria had been planned another sight seeing day. Unfortunately, the Library of Alexandria and the Greco-Roman Museum were closed for the holiday weekend. Alright, Ramadan, you can have the last word. We did get to see the Catacomes and the Roman Amphitheater. The Amphitheater was very impressive and for a bribe of only 5 LE to the tourist policeman we got to go in the restricted underground passage ways, very cool. It was very hot that day though, and after spending a perfect day at the beach, nothing felt quite as good. We spent the rest of our day relaxing at various cafes and then headed back to the train station. We hopped on the train only to discover that a creepy man was sitting in my seat. Thank goodness he was though because other wise we would have gone off to a mystery location. We managed to get back onto the platform about 10 seconds before the wrong train started moving.

Coming back to Cairo was a bit discouraging. Maadi is home, and Cairo does have it's own charms about it. It was overwhelming coming back to it all after spending a weekend on the coast. Cairo is the farthest I've ever lived from the ocean, it was so nice to feel the breeze and I am not complaining about how much warmer the water was compared to New England. This was our first adventure outside of Cairo and it was an absolute success. Looking forward to what comes next.

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day at a New School

(I wrote this post last week, please excuse it's dated content)

So our visa to the duty free shop is almost up, which means we’ve been here almost three weeks. Finally time seems to be moving a bit quicker than the eventful day by day that it’s been since we got here. Orientation got me more confused than I was before, and classes have begun. I use the term “begun” loosely because we only have three days of classes this week and the periods themselves are shorter due to Ramadan. After neglecting our laundry in order to attend an international student party (something that vaguely resembled a high school movie after prom event), we had no clean pants for the first day. However, all was not lost, and we put together our ceremonial first-day-of-school outfits and headed off to catch the bus.
I’m going to pause my narrative for just a moment and take this brief paragraph to complain about just how freaking stupid American University of Cairo is. I understand that I’m a little challenged when it comes to following directions and orienting myself on a map, but the AUC campus is a whole different kind of maze. My first class was in the BEC building. Guess what? There is no BEC on the map. Not only that, but even if there were a BEC on the map, I wouldn’t know how to get there because their strategically placed guiding maps don’t show where YOU are. A small detail that I find rather imperative.  I have become slightly better at navigating the campus, since I put everything in relation to the on-campus Cinnabon.
I applied for my classes back at the beginning of the summer, and I was so excited to find out that I was scheduled for nine communications credits, even though I can only transfer six. My other two classes were Financial Accounting 101 and Introduction to Microeconomics. Riveting stuff, right? Upon receiving my schedule, I realized that there was really no reason for me to be in Egypt, since these were all courses that were offered at American University in Washington D.C..
My first class, Media Management, is a course on how different branches of media converge. I am the only American in the class, and it added a new dynamic to learning. I don’t think I realized when I signed up to come to Egypt exactly how different the media is in this country. The professor, or “doctor” as they call them here was fascinated by my nationality. Whenever he had a fact about the United States, he would ask me if I knew if first (i.e. what is the circulation of the Washington Post or how many FM radio stations are there in NYC…etc). Of course I knew none of the answers, but my rough estimates weren’t too far off if you squinted. The majority of the media, here in Egypt is actually run by the government. This is such a strange concept to me. There are only nine radio stations in the entire country and the daily circulation of all the newspapers combined is only 3 million readers. It is also obvious that because of this, the media majors here at AUC have been given a very different education as to how to address the world of publication.
It was difficult to follow my professor at times. He would occasionally slip into Arabic, but he was always aware of me and would ask me if I understood. When I shook my head he would just tell me that it was unimportant anyways. I am really looking forward to the class, even though I am now in a new section do to scheduling conflicts. I’m hoping that my new class is just as interesting. My second class, Introduction to Photography, will no longer be on my schedule. The professor was well traveled, a University of Texas graduate who was a photographer on the staff of Time Magazine for the better part of a decade. However, he spent most of the class, plus fifteen minutes over time telling us how there was no excuse to being unprepaired and how his accomplishments were amazing and unless an immediate family member died there was no reason to miss INTRODUCTION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THE MOST IMPORTANT CLASS EVER. I should also mention that he did not have the syllabus or the homework assignment and made us all follow him to his office after class and wait ten minutes in the hallway while he had it printed and photocopied. I’m not a huge fan of pompous, hypocritical professors, nor do I have any desire really to spend $3,000 on an introduction to photography course.
Today was a bit of a discouraging day because I had to deal with my schedule for a large part of it. It’s not easy dropping five courses and adding all new ones. I attended my Mass Communication Research course in the morning. While listening to the course description, I was a bit bummed out that I’m taking it in D.C.. The other problem with the class is that it involves creating surveys and interviewing people on the street (not on campus), which is something I can’t do. I can’t speak Arabic, and very few people here speak enough English for me to actually communicate a survey with them.
After eating an interesting lunch with Emily and Adam I took up residence in the make shift guidance office for international students to add and drop classes. I dropped all of my courses. I am now enrolled in a different section of Media Management, Newspaper Writing and Editing, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Egyptian Literature in Translation. I’m still trying to figure out what my fifth course will be. Partially, this depends on what I want my minor to be. It was really hard enough picking a major, this minor business is miserable. I thought that I wanted a minor in business, but I’ve managed to avoid economics for so long; it seems like such a wasted effort if I just hop on board my parent’s victory wagon and take Micro. My goal is to have my fifth class picked out by Wednesday. Then I’m off to celebrate the end of Ramadan with the long weekend in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. I’m hoping it’s a tad more colorful than Cairo. I could use a change of scenery. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Surviving Arabic

Survival Arabic is impossible. Arabic is the hardest language I've ever attempted to learn. Even if I manage to get the pronunciation right, it's impossible to remember. Orientation started off with confusion, disorganization, and a lot of waiting in lines. After spending a whole day on campus, I managed to accomplish nothing except for collecting a free messenger bag of AUC goodies (yo-yo included) and learning that I am simply hopeless when it comes to learning Arabic. Priorities at the moment lay in getting my student ID, a bus pass, a school email address, and a student visa. It's a shame that the technology doesn't exist to get any of these things done before the international students arrive so they don't have to spend a week running around a campus finding remote rooms in maze-like buildings. Oh wait, it does... grrrr.

We had our first adventure out into the nightlife of Cairo last night with some other AU students and a couple new friends, only to end up at a Mariot because everything is closed for Ramadan. So much for local culture, but we have four months. Tonight, Emily and I went on a quest for a phone card and got to see a little bit more of the neighborhood. It's marvelous. We stopped into a nearby wood and silversmith shop. The old man who owns the shop was very amusing. We looked around at his beautiful work and I ended up purchasing a small camel figurine. He gave us scarab beads that are supposed to bring us luck, and wished us to find the men that are lucky enough to have us. He also asked us what we drank as babies to make us so pretty. I would like to mention that these compliments were post-purchase, so they must be sincere. These past few days, I have kind of fallen into a lull of trying to get nonsense done at AUC and attempting to deal with the 100+ daily heat by seeking out all air conditioned places. For all of those who told me otherwise, the heat isn't that dry.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shisha and Chocolate Cake

We found an apartment, well, it was the apartment that we already found, but we signed a lease for four months and got to cleaning. After a four hour adventure to the Hypermart, we had some quality apartment bonding by removing the copious amounts of dust that occupied every crevasse of the rooms. We moved one of the beds out of the second bedroom and moved it into the dinning room, so we all have our own rooms. All I need now are some gorgeous Egyptian curtains to act as a door.

Staying with Lauren was a happy break from the bustling city. The embassy has put her up in a beautiful three bedroom apartment outside of Zamelek. She was such a great hostess, letting us stay with her for two nights. She showed us the neighborhood a bit and we visited Cloud Nine to get our first taste of hookah or shisha (also spelt sheesha). I have also taken up the quest for finding the perfect piece of Egyptain chocolate cake. It's a hard task, but I'm willing to do it. We don't have internet right now, so we've taken up residence at a cafe and restaurant near our apartment. Shisha, delicious food, and free WiFi right next door. It's a beautiful atmosphere, and for less than $10 American it's a great place to spend the evening.

We are all moved in now and orientation starts tomorrow. I'm looking forward to meeting more students and I'm hoping with all my might that my Survival Arabic course does something to bridge the language gap that I'm experiencing. Also, now that we're settled, I'm ready to go back into the city and seeing everything else it has to offer. It was a little too exhausting to explore, apartment search, and cope with the jet lag and the heat that was last week. Having a home base is an exciting step, and I'm so ready to adventure. Trips to the White Desert, Alexandria, Aswan, The Red Sea, and Luxor are also in the works for the upcoming months. So excited!

Monday, August 23, 2010

T-Minus Twelve Hours to Homelessness

Jet lag is a worthy opponent. Emily and I fell pray to its evil ways on our second night here, and were not able to sleep until almost sunrise. Day two of Cairo was practical. We let jet lag have a small victory and we slept until noon. Then we spent the day shopping for an apartment! We were picked up at our hotel by a driver named Mohamed, who was recommended to us by the owner of the hotel. He drives people around who are looking for an apartment and takes them to real estate agents and building that may have vacancies. Apparently, the way to do it in these parts is to go up to the doorman and ask if there is any available rooms in the building. Unfortunate for us, it's Ramadan, and all the doormen are asleep in the middle of the day. We headed out the Maadi (kinda pronounced like Maddie, with a long a), a neighborhood just outside of Cairo, near New Cairo where American University of Cairo is. I am in love with the neighborhood. It is the destination of many ex-Patriots (people living in Egypt having left their own country) and international culture. Living in an overwhelmingly Muslim country is not without its challenges and it's only the first week. I liked Maadi because it was a little more diverse, and I felt more comfortable there then I do here in downtown. There are also more trees, cafes, and shops. I suppose I could get used to the idea of living in suburbia. The first apartment we saw is AMAZING. It is all marble with new appliances and a quiet street. Unfortunately, it's not really near the metro which kind of defeats the purpose of living in the accessible city. Mohamed took us to two other apartments and with our limited Arabic and French and his limited English and French, we managed to get our point across, however, we did not manage to find an apartment. We made our way to Zamelek for dinner with Lauren, a friend of Emily's who works at the American embassy in Garden City. The restaurant was very chic and seemed to cater to the international crowd. We got back to the hotel and decided to tackle the errand of getting cell phones! The cell phone stores are a lot like ones in America, you take a number, wait a long time, get helped, wait some more, get your phone, follow 15 steps, pay 200EGP and the BAM you can make a call. He needed our passports to put the line in our names, but he was satisfied with just having Adam's passport, so we're now on the same cell plan. It's a big commitment, I know, but I feel better knowing that Adam's name is on all the Arabic contracts and not mine... sorry Adam... but not really. Emily's passport was accidentally left on the scanner at the Mobinil, so she and I had to hall our asses back there before they closed. It was the first time that we had been in the streets without our fearless male escort, Adam. There was a definite shift, more cat calls... which actually sound more like bird calls... ironic. I'm just confused what they think they are going to accomplish by tweeting at me. Almost all the men here are Muslim, so it's not like they can do anything before marriage, and I'm not Muslim, so it's not like they can bring me home to mom and dad. They are lacking motivation it seems, but not drive. 

Today involved a bit of extra sleep so that I could feel up to par. Then we headed back out to Maadi to meet with a guy who was listing apartments over Craigslist. After initial confusion about which of the three Maadi metro stops he was at, we managed to meet up with him. The apartment was literally right across the street from the bus stop. It had a beautifully tacky white hat motif and a built-in aquarium in the shape of a fish. It's 2 bedrooms, but big enough for 3 and right near a fresh produce store and a grocery store. Craigslist guy was really helpful and got us a lower price and a 4 month lease, plus a fast delivery on a new fridge and a cleaning service. We may, however, only be looking for two people now. Zoya is thinking about moving into the dorms to be around more students. A valid point, but I'm not sure I could go back to dorm life after having the luxury of my own kitchen for the last year. The rest of today was a down day, the heat and the city has been slowly wearing us down and it was time to enjoy the comforts of our hotel. Sundown came and we headed back to the restaurant we ate at the first night here, because it was freaking delicious and we knew where it was. Adam and I went on a quest for an Egyptian soccer jersey, while Zoya and Emily played a waiting game at the phone store... they totally won. While adventuring through the streets I may or may not have slipped on some sand and may or may not have fallen directly on my ass on a relatively crowed street corner. As if being white and not in a head scarf didn't make me stand out enough. Thankfully, Adam was SUPER supportive and didn't tease me AT ALL about the situation. I'm sure it was just irony when he suggested we get ice cream because I was in need of a pick me up. Harhar Adam, Harhar. 

So anyway, we have a check out time of noon tomorrow here at the hotel, but they are letting us keep our bags here until 5. Lauren has graciously let us take up her extra space in her apartment, so we're heading up to Mohadiseen to crash at her place. We've got a couple more places to look at tomorrow, and hopefully we won't impose on her for more than a night. Orientation starts in a few days, so adventures will be put on hold for "getting to know you" games and dealing with the red tape of the AUC administrative office. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Riding Camels in the Egyptian Desert

Good byes have consumed my life for the past week. Exploring a new city is a welcome change of pace. We arrived at our hotel around 7pm last night, which was perfect. The international flight was 12 hours long with tiny seats, no leg room, screaming children and bad food. After getting settled at the hotel (which has a wonderful view of the city), we headed out into the streets of Cairo. Iftar is the prayer to break the fast of Ramadan that happens every night at sundown. The city wakes up, restaurants open, and it is time to get your nom noms on. We found a sit-down restaurant and had a delicious dinner and managed to navigate our way back to the hotel. Thank goodness that Emily has a better sense of direction than I do; I was just following the sparkly lights. The driving is INSANE here! At one point when driving home from the airport to our hotel, the driver decided to make his own third lane in the middle of the two ones that were already occupied by other cars driving the same fast speed. Sleep came easy after having gotten little of it on the plane. I don't want to speak too soon, but I think that we may have managed to beat the jet lag.

We jumped right into things on our first day. We started with breakfast at the hotel with toast, crepes, tead, and a mystery fruit later identified as a fig. The tea is so good here, I'm almost embarrassed that I brought two boxes worth of American tea (There was a great pun at breakfast about how America's relations with tea have been strained since the Boston Tea party. tehehe) We then headed to the metro to go see the pyramids... when in Egypt, right? The metro is very clean and was easy to ride for about a 20th the price of a cab ride the same distance. We got off at the metro and asked a very nice Egyptian guy by the name of Omar where we could get a taxi. Turns out Omar is about the friendliest person EVER. He offered to help us take the bus, but then we found an illegitimate taxi driver who was willing to take us to the pyramids for the same price as the bus. Omar came with us and the "taxi" dropped us off at this tour agency. Before we knew it, we were being whisked on to the backs of camels and taken up to see the nine pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Our original plan did not include camels, but I rather liked my camel, Humphrey. I was forced to change camels mid-trip and sit on the mean-spirited Jessie who gurgled a lot and liked to roll over instead of just sitting down like a normal camel. I also had to share my camel seat with one of our guides for part of the trip, which got kinda awkward. Men and women are not supposed to touch here, and I know I'm an American slut and whatnot, but still, having to rely on holding on to a sweaty man in order to remain on a 10 foot camel is really not my idea of a good time, but whatevs. The Sphinx is much smaller than I thought, but all the sights did not disappoint. By the end of the trip I was so dehydrated and tired. I have never felt heat like this before in my life. It wasn't bad in the morning, but traveling around in the desert, during the hottest part of the day, on the back of a camel really wore me out. Omar waited for us while we were touring the pyramids and met us with his friend and a car when we were done. They drove us to the metro, and we made our way back to the hotel. After taking some time to relax, we are ready to head out to Giza again. We have plans to meet up with Omar who would like to take us to his house so that we can break fast with his family.... I'm not really sure what's going on, but I did get to climb a 7,000 year-old pyramid today, and I discovered that camels are much taller than I thought they would be.


Ok, so dinner is not what I thought it would be. I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wasn't that. The friend with the car turned out to be Omar's half brother or "brother from another mother." That term is actually literal here in Egypt as men, such as Omar's father can have multiple wives. So, we headed out to Giza, called Omar's brother and were picked up and brought to this random hut on the side of the road to drink "Egyptian Juice." It's this kind of frothy green juice made from sugar cane. It wasn't bad, but it's not something that I wanted to drink a full mug of on the side of the streets in Giza with all those charming flys abuzzin'. So, after finishing half the glass, Adam swapped his empty glass for mine. Omar's brother (who's name was not something I could pronounce) then brought us to his apartment where we met his wife, who seemed lovely but didn't say anything the entire time we were there until we were walking out the door. Omar is quite open about... like everything. We learned that when he was 16 he had two girl friends, and loved them both but it didn't work out because he couldn't sleep with them because they were both Muslim. He the fell in love with an older French woman, but it didn't work out. He does seem to have taken a particular liking to our friend, Zoya and is very excited to take us all around the country and show us all the spots only locals can go. Ok, so it's really great to have made a friend out of a random guy in the metro, but what's the catch? He paid for our cab, waited while we rode camels around the pyramids for a couple hours, drove us to the metro, picked us up from the metro, insisted that we have dinner with his family, and wants to take us all over the place, interpret, and guide our 4 month stay. He never once asked for money, and he was very nice and honest. I got a little uncomfortable when he brought up Israel. Believe me, four American students know better than to bring up politics with complete strangers in the Middle East, but Omar was all about sharing his views. He used to like Obama, but not so much any more because he has not followed through on promises, etc.. He then proceeded to tell a story of when he met an Israeli and told him that he hated Israel, Israelis, and Israeli government. Zoya told him that she didn't believe in discriminating based on nationality, and Omar said that it did not matter and he could never be friends with an Israeli, he could be civil, but Israelis were essentially inherently bad. Now, I'm not the most Jewish gal in the world, but I was very taken aback by this rant. It was slightly offensive and extremely uncomfortable, just sitting there saying nothing. This is the first Egyptian that I've really had much contact with, so it's hard to say if these feelings are common, universal, or just isolated, but I guess this is what friends were saying when they told me not to be open about being "Jewish." So... yeah, this is emersion I guess. What's on the menu for tomorrow? Sleep, hopefully apartment hunting, and a mild adventure into the city. Yes, we hit the ground running, but now we've got to walk off the fall, and maybe throw some dirt on the camel-riding rash.