The moment you’ve all been waiting for – my first post on my time in the lovely country of Egypt! Seems appropriate since this whole TIME adventure will end for me and the gang in exactly one week (St. Olaf has decided to pull the plug on Israel in light of recent events, so I will be home the night of the 13th!). You read that right. I have one week to cram all the adventure in that I can. While I’m out doing that, I’d also like to share some Egypt adventures with you all, so stay tuned!
1. We’re staying on the island of Zamalek, which is very very nice. There are tons of yummy restaurants and cute shops, and there are quite a few embassies. It is a very upscale island with a large population of expats. I have also noticed less headscarves here, though in the scheme of things there still are a ton (once you cross the bridge into other parts of Cairo, headscarves are all you see). Also: the TIME group is completely safe on the island of Zamalek – I feel totally comfortable walking around with only girls or even by myself. And while I wouldn’t necessarily want to go off of Zamalek without a guy (though I have done it before in a large group of girls and have been completely fine), venturing out into other parts of Cairo has been both enlightening and very non-eventful. I’m not sure what kind of news you all are getting back home about the protests going on, but Cairo is HUGE (20 million people!) and we are very far-removed from the highly concentrated incidents going on. Our American University of Cairo dorm has tight security and we know not to go anywhere near Tahrir on Tuesdays and Fridays. I hope I’m not coming across as jaded, but really we are doing just fine and are actually thriving!
The dorms at AUC!
Cool graffiti around Zamalek.
2. I thought the traffic in Morocco and Egypt was crazy….In Cairo it is actually insane, even on the island of Zamalek. The roads on Zamalek have room for 4 lanes of cars, but 3 of those are taken up by parked cars (Egyptians are notorious double-parkers) so basically every road within Zamalek is a one-way. There is the usual insane amount of insane moped traffic, and people here do not hesitate to cram as many people on one as they can – I’ve seen many family of four zipping down the road on a moped! The four times I’ve taken a taxi here have been scary to say the least – everyone drives SO fast and takes big risks while driving, not hesitating to weave in and out of cars. Traffic lanes don’t really exist on the major highways. And of course, everyone uses their horn liberally. I’ve heard quite the array of car horns over the course of these part four months!
3. Egyptians are the most welcoming people I have encountered. Apart from the occasional rude comment, most Egyptians are eager to welcome us to their country and ask us where we’re from. At a few sites we’ve been to, we’ve actually turned into semi-celebrities. At the pyramids of Giza, we had crowds of school children following us around and asking to take pictures with us. I can’t even tell you how many strangers cameras and phones I’m on. When we were at the Mohammed Ali mosque, a man actually had me take a picture with his baby. We all find it (mostly) flattering and are mostly willing to pose for a few pictures (we would probably be less willing if this phenomenon happened every day, but thankfully we barely warrant a second glance on Zamalek). The majority of the people who want photos are young teenage girls, who follow us around in hordes, giggling and pointing until one of them works up the courage to ask for a picture with us. Another funny memory is when we were in Alexandria at a fortress on the sea at the same time as a school group of young children. They kept running past us and shouting from the top of the castle “WHAT’S YOUR NAME???”, the only English words they knew. It’s always pretty amusing, but I am also looking forward to going back to a certain level of anonymity in the US.
4. We’re currently all done with classes here (!!) but learned a ton in the process. We had a few classes of Standard Arabic, which I failed to pick up as the professor was a fast talker and all the words swirled around with Turkish and Darija in my brain. Our main professor was Dr. John Swanson of AUC, one of the most knowledgeable and passionate educators I have ever been introduced to. He taught us about Islam, Coptic Christians in Egypt, history, and politics to name a few. We also had lessons on architecture, Egyptology (so cool!), gender issues, 19th and 20th century Egypt, and so much more!
5. Egypt has a ridiculous amount of antiquities and even more history to back those up. Some of them are underwater, some of them have been destroyed, and some haven’t even been discovered yet, but we had the amazing opportunity to see some of the great artifacts from ancient Egypt. I’ve definitely had a few moments here where I’ve felt like Indiana Jones (especially when we had the opportunity to climb inside a pyramid – nest post!). If my career in English and Journalism doesn’t work out, I’m moving here and becoming an Egyptologist…
6. …or maybe not, because it is ridiculously smoggy here. What else would you expect with a population of 20 million people? The past few days have been mercifully clear and I’ve actually noticed building on Zamalek I’ve never seen before.
Well that’s all for now, check back soon for more!