So, I must apologize for not keeping this as frequently updated as I should. I had written a perfect post after two days here but I lost it when my internet went out before it published and didn’t have the heart to re-write it yet (note to self, write in word document then paste). For all of you wondering, I have made it here safe and sound, and so much has happened in the mere 5 days I’ve been here.
Right before boarding the plane from JFK to Cairo, I was hit with a lingering moment of “oh my god, what the heck am I doing”. Leaving home, my school, my friends and loved ones behind for a different continent across the ocean, a culture foreign to my own, and no one I knew there nearly paralyzed me with fear. I am not someone who feels fear often, but I can honestly say I was terrified. You can keep telling yourself you will be fine but you can’t believe it while in this kind of mental tunnel. Someone very close to me told me on the phone as I cried into it that this will be the best experience I’ll have ever had and as real as this feeling may be in the moment, soon enough I will feel silly for ever doubting my decision. So then it came to going on faith that I would be fine. And I am. More than fine in fact.
After reluctantly hanging up that phone call, I got in line to board the plane behind 3 other students who were also to the American University in Cairo. They were so nice and in that short time before we took our seats, I was already comforted to have found people in the same position as mine. In fact two of those students have already become my close friends here. The girl I sat next to on the plane also was headed to the AUC and talking to each other throughout the 13 hour flight (yeah, I know!) got us both excited for our months ahead.
We flew through the night and when we landed around 5pm, this was the first sight of Cairo I saw.
That first night we dropped off our stuff at the dorms (I have a single room in a suite of 3 other girls who didn’t arrive till 2 days ago) and ventured out with our residential advisors (RA’s) into the small town of al Rehab where we did some shopping for basic essentials. In the group outing I met students from all over, all of whom have an awesome story and have been so wonderful to get to know. I have not met a single student here that I have not liked. That night I got dinner with two girls I’d met on the bus to al Rehab and then went to bed late.
I slept and slept and slept. Literally, all day. This was partly the jetlag and partly because I didn’t have any roommates yet and there was no one to wake me. I am a bona fide “sack artist” and if there’s no one to wake me, I will not wake. I awakened at 6:30pm, walked around for half an hour looking for people then simply went back to sleep.
The next few days were filled with orientation events and little outings into the city of Cairo. We went on a Felucca (small boat) ride down the Nile on Saturday where one of the Egyptian student leaders worked with us on our Arabic. I actually got serious compliments on my abilities, which was so refreshing since I have felt like I was stupid in it for so long. I guess it just shows that hard work pays off even if your grades don’t show for it. Talk about delayed gratification!
Here’s a picture of the Nile that night.
On Sunday 3 girlfriends and I went to Khan el Khalili, a huge bazar type market in downtown Cairo. This market is famous and notorious for the merchants being aggressively flirtatious with women in order to sell them stuff, or simply for the thrill, who knows. Hearing lines like “ma’am, you’ve dropped something… it was my heart” and “you’re eyes light my soul on fire, I love you” are more than commonplace. Bryce had told me he was offered 2 million camels for a friend of his when he was there and that line resurfaced when my friend Danielle who was holding my friend Hilary’s hand (this puts off advances, but you wouldn’t know it by how many there are) was offered a couple million camels for Hilary.
What is also commonplace is trying to cheat Americans. I refuse to be scammed or taken advantage of simply because I am the palest girl you may ever meet. I have learned local prices quickly and much to my everlasting pride, I have become a mean bargainer. This girl, will not be ripped off. It is helpful to use my minimal Arabic when dealing with merchants as it gives you slightly more legitimacy than a common tourist, despite the fact that all the merchants speak English. I cannot wait to return to Khan.
Yesterday, after orientation stuff, my group of 8 friends and I went on a dinner cruise down the Nile facilitated by the school. It was awesome, Belly dancing, classic Arab man in a light-up skirt dancing (I really have no other way to describe it), good food and all the while cruising down the River Nile. Even on a legitimately organized cruise like this, one has to look out for rip offs as our waiter overcharged many students and tried to with us. We actually brought the menu to the manager to show how the prices had been manipulated and everyone got the difference in price back, but with no apology. Sadly foreigners must always be on the lookout for scams, as they are so easy to fall into.
Today, waking up at 7:00am we went to the oldest region of Cairo and saw Mosques, Churches and one of the few synagogues in Cairo. We actually stood over the crypt that marks where Jesus and the holy family lived at one time. Stood in the actual place! Also, the synagogue is thought to be the place where Moses was found as a baby floating along the Nile in his basket. The Nile used to run through that area in ancient times before it was rerouted by modern technology. We ended the day getting a belly dancing and other Arab type dance lesson on the bus on the way back. Imagine the comedy of 7 girls out of a group of 20-something attempting to learn to dance in the aisle of a moving bus by over-excited (but lovely) Egyptian orientation leaders. I can see it now…
Here are some of my close girlfriends in front of St. George’s church (the actual prison in which he was held)
Covered up in the Mosque of Mohammad Ali (no not the boxer). These are my girls (in order from right to left in honor of how the Arabs read) Sairah, Me, Alexa, Danielle and Hilary.
So that has been my trip thus far in a nutshell. I apologize for the long post, but as there is a lot to catch you all up on, it seemed necessary. I have also had some great quality time with two of my roommates and I can already tell how close we are all going to be. We’ve already had those long 2am conversations about anything and everything sitting on each other’s beds showing pictures of family and friends. I am so lucky to have them and they have also offered to help me with my Arabic, an added bonus. My one roommate Salma came into my room today with a jar of nutella and two spoons for us. A girl after my own heart.
I will draw this to a close, but know that I love and miss you all. Despite my previous doubts and fears, I can already tell this is going to be every bit the life-changing experience everyone has said.
I am truly blessed.
More photos later. Until next time,
p.s. there are stray cats EVERYWHERE. I suppose Egypt has always had a thing for cats. Check out this cutie at the Khan el Khalili (and don’t worry I purelled thoroughly afterward).
p.p.s For anyone wondering in light of this civil unrest that claimed the lives of 3 protestors today at the riot in downtown Cairo, we here at the AUC are all safe and taken care of. No need to worry about us, but it is a sad and momentous day for Cairo and the citizens of Egypt.