Dearest Egpyt,

I shall not miss:
your filthy over-crowded streets
the harassment
the smog-filled air
constantly being ripped off

I will miss:
the rich culture you hold
the friends I made
bargaining with shop keepers
traveling all around the region

I have learned so much during this study abroad semester. I have experienced things, both bad and good, that many people will never get the chance to do.  I feel as though I have been slightly changed by my trip abroad.

For someone who was already highly patriotic before this trip, my love for this country grew exponentially. I learned to appreciate the little things so much more. Things like: taxis arriving on time, being able to go anywhere by myself, things happening how they should, administrations working properly. The way things work in Egypt makes the DMV on the first and last week of the month look good.

Although I was constantly frustrated, my patience was tried over and over, and I missed so many things at home, I am glad I decided to study abroad this past semester. I now have first hand experience in a country that holds such a prominent influence in a region my studies focus on.

We had our issues dear Egypt, but I shall miss you…one day

Upon our arrival in Amman, we promptly caught a taxi and found our hotel. Now at first I was a little scared about the place I had chosen to stay…there was a gang of bikers hanging out outside and we had to walk through this little ally filled with them and their motorcycles (which made me miss the feel of riding a motorcycle at home). But we got checked in, loaded our stuff onto the tiny elevator – me straddling my suitcase so that we could both fit – and fell onto our beds.

The next day we headed to the Dead Sea. We also went to Bethany, but that was not a pleasant part of the trip for me – I was able to see an ugly side of my traveling companion and had a hard time controlling my eager anger. But when we got to the Dead Sea, we put everything behind us and climbed into the salty salty water. To describe this sea as salty really is not doing it justice. It is far more salty than you could possibly imagine. And the actual act of floating was unreal. Even if you tried to push yourself down and reach the bottom, you weren’t able to. It was – crazy, amazing, unbelievable – insert adjective here.

After a much needed shower, we headed back to the hotel where we changed once more and headed to town. Savannah and I came across this amazing store on the main street. It had everything you could possibly want from Jordan as a touristy person – pillow cases, dead sea mud, scarves, shirts, swords, silver, purses, and other miscellaneous items. I spent far too much time and money in that one store. Nearly two hours later we left the store and tried to head back to the hotel, however, that was proving more difficult than originally thought. After asking someone for directions we finally made it to our hotel. Now let me take this moment to spotlight the greatness that does occur in this culture: when you ask someone for directions, a majority of the time they will take you there themselves and ask for nothing in return. It is truly amazing and gives me a little hope for civilization in a place where I almost lose it all.

That night we went to bed fairly early since we were venturing off to Petra in the morning…5:30 am in the morning to be precise. I have noticed that while I claim to be on vacation, I never am able to sleep as though I am on vacation. Anyway, we get up bright and early, pack our bags for the day and head out to the bus station. We were told the bus would leave at 7 so we got there 6:50 and boarded the bus. However, we did factor in that it was the first day of Eid al-Adha and we sat there for over an hour waiting for our departure. However while waiting we were able to witness something I thought was pretty incredible: it started with a few men in the parking lot spreading their rugs and beginning to pray – it led to over a hundred people gathering in this bus parking lot – everyone praying together – men in the front, women in the back. How many people can say they have witnessed something like that?

Finally on our way to Petra, a long boring bus ride – about 4 hours by bus. A word of warning to those who wish to visit this amazing mountainous city: it is much more expensive than you probably imagine. If you are staying in Petra the cost of a ticket is 50JD which is roughly $75. However, if you are NOT staying in Petra it is 90JD which is about $137. My advice, say you are staying in Petra, they won’t even ask where you are staying, but in case they do say Petra Gate. Also plan more than one day – you will not be satisfied with only one day in that place. It is just far beyond comprehension.

We bought our ticket, rode horses to to the entrance, but instead of entering the normal way (that of the Siq) we had a guide who took us the “Indiana Jones” way – a way without any path which causes you to climb and jump between mountains. It…was…AMAZING. There were absolutely no other tourists around us (which is my least favorite thing about visiting these types of sites) and the views were just amazing. I also got to hold a 15 minute old baby goat!?!?!

Now I realize there has been a prolonged silence, but I promise I have not been idly sitting around campus ignoring my responsibilities. In Egypt, and in most Arab countries where Islam is the predominate religion, schools are released for vacation during the Eid al-Adha holiday. This gave me a span of about 9 days to travel and explore more of this region. I took full advantage of this opportunity and experienced so much that I might have to separate it into two separate posts.

But onto the Journey:
Late Thursday night Savannah and I were sitting in the bus station patiently (for Savannah not so patiently) waiting for our bus to arrive so we could board. Hours pass and we hear buses leaving for Hurghada, Sharm, and many other places in Egypt. I look at the time and realize that it is now 5 minutes before our bus is supposed to leave and decide to go ask about our transportation. Well, apparently the bus to Dahab is not worth announcing because the bus was about to leave without any word to the people waiting in the terminal. We quickly loaded our things and hopped on to find our seats.

Shortly after our bus left this bus terminal we arrived at yet another bus stop where they asked to see our tickets. I pulled mine out along with my passport (you never know with this country), but Savannah could not find hers…We had been on the bus for only 15 minutes at most and she had already lost her ticket. After delaying the bus for about 30 minutes, pulling her bag out and searching through it and paying another 20LE (as a bribe for the ticket guy) we were on our way to Dahab.

Once we arrived, we dropped our stuff off at Penguin Hotel (since I stayed there before I had connections which allowed for this) and went to wander the city. I introduced Savannah to the rug shop from last time where she bought two of her own rugs. The owner remembered me and to thank me for bringing him business he gave me a free small rug. Nothing big, but still generous. After that we headed to the painter which I loved on my last visit. I bought four more paintings as christmas gifts because really, where else are you going to find handmade art that was actually painted on the shores of land which it depicts?

Done with shopping, we catch a bus to Nuweiba where we will stay the night. During the bus ride we realize there is a guy that we saw at Penguin sitting very close to us. Naturally, we started a conversation with my soon to be “husband” – a frenchman named Olivier. It turns out he was headed exactly where we were. Now of course Nuweiba since our bus is indeed headed that way, but to Jordan as well. Making friends with him, he catches a taxi to the place where we have reservations and was able to get a room there. Side note about taxis in Egypt – almost every car that passes will claim to be a taxi, do NOT believe them. Olivier stopped a truck (which looked like it could be used to carry people to jail) and they offered to drive us. Thank god another truck came along (taxis in beach towns are often trucks btw) and we got a ride with him. Funny thing about rooming actually, Olivier did not have a reservation and got a room in about 5 minutes – we had a reservation yet it took at least 30 minutes to give us the key to our room.

We ate dinner then settled into our room. Savannah decided she wanted a shower, which she alter yelled at me for leaving her there alone since it was communal and was terrified of other people being there. I personally did not see the danger since everything was in the open, people would be able to see if anyone tried anything. But nonetheless, I was apparently in the wrong.
Word to the wise who sleep in little huts near the water in Egypt…BUG SPRAY. I was eaten alive. Literally 12 mosquito bites in one area. It was absolutely ridiculous and made it impossible to sleep.
But you do get to wake to this:

Anyway, the next day we wake and we prepare to leave for the port (we are taking a ferry to Aqaba, Jordan). We call our amazing driver from the night before he offers to pick us up and take us to the port for nearly half the price the hostel was trying to charge us. We arrive at the port and head for the boat. After a few hours of trying to figure out exactly what we needed to do in order to board the boat we were finally on the ship. They tried to get Savannah and I to leave our large luggage on the bottom, but I refuse to leave anything of mine where I cannot see it and where others are free to rifle through it. So we lugged our giant suitcases up three levels of stairs. We though since the bus was loading we would be leaving soon…oh have we learned nothing about Egypt at all? We sat in dock on the boat for hours before we finally set sail to Aqaba.

The entire trip took nearly 9 hours. That is 9 hours of sitting on a boat, reading, talking, barely eating, and refraining from using the restroom. Let me explain that a bit more. There were restaurants on the ship, but there was no one in them that looked to be serving food. The little snack stand did not have change for the majority of the trip so that option was out until near the end. And the bathroom? Well…it was overflowing with disgusting water and excrements.

Finally in Aqaba, we catch a cab to our hostel. Now the cab driver seemed really cool – he was dressed very nice, played 50 cent on the radio, and actually stayed in the lines on the road. During the ride, I think he was trying to hit on Savannah and I. He asked if Olivier and I were together which is where Savannah told him that we were married – I never expected to be married so young. Anyway, when we arrived at our hostel he tried to charge us 30JD, then 20JD…the real amount should be no more than 5JD. After lots of argument and hostel employee interference, he left with 5 JD in his pocket. Then we find out that our hostel had given away our room since we were two hours late to our reservation (I had planned two extra hours of travel time, but that was not enough for the boat) and now were out of rooms. Luckily, after explaining that we are students in Egypt etc, they decided they did in fact have another room available.

They told us to unpack, shower, do whatever we need then to return and we can have dinner. So we bid farewell to Olivier and planned to see him the next morning. Now I expected to order food since it is also a restaurant, but when we returned and sat down, they placed our dishes in front of us…BIG problem. It was fish. I do NOT eat fish. Yet to return the food is seen as disrespectful in this culture; so I sat there for awhile gathering my courage. Finally I took a bite of what I thought to be a disgusting and foul smelling creature…and I was right. It was disgusting and slimy and I hated it. But I tried it and therefore was not rude. Savannah however, loved the dinner.

During dinner, the owner came to talk to us. He asked us what we planned on doing and we told him that Petra was our goal. He then informed us of how early we would need to leave, how much it actually costs (way more than one would expect), and all the small details. After seeing my disappointment in possibly not being able to afford it, he made us an offer. He had a friend who lives in Petra and actually owns a cave in the mountains.
He proposed this: He takes us snorkeling in the morning then we go back to the hostel, shower and load our luggage into his car. After that he would head to little Petra which is free then we would be on our way to his friend’s cave where we would have a bar-b-q and spend the night. In the morning, we would wake early and visit the real Petra.

Now this definitely sounded WAY too good to be true. Not to mention we had already made plans to meet with Olivier the next morning and our hotel arrangements in Amman the next night. To our hotel predicament he claims to actually be friends with the owner of the hotel and could get us out of that obligation. So we then ask if Olivier could come with us – if the offer is legit then having our friend join should not be a problem. He refused to allow him to come because “he did not know him.”
SKETCHY

Obviously we chose not to go with him. Instead we went snorkeling then boarded our bus and headed to Amman. Whose stories will be saved until next time.

Now I realize that the title of this blog is quite a paradox; however, it is truly how you would explain my vacation in Dahab. When I first came up with the idea of going to Dahab for the week break we had, I imagined laying on the beach and relaxing until the end of the week – forgetting about the stress back in Cairo. But of course, that is not how the week ended up at all.

Monday, we left around midnight on a bus headed towards Sharm el-Sheikh. (The bus directly to Dahab was sold out.) 9 hours later, we arrive at the Sharm bus station and are told that the next bus to Dahab is not for another two hours. However, we must have been lucky because we stumbled upon a bus after about 5 minutes that was headed to Dahab. After paying the driver 20LE each, we boarded the bus…the only problem with this situation is the lacking of seats, as in there are none available. You would not think that the bus driver would allow more people on the bus than it would sit, but then again T.I.E. (This is Egypt).

Once we arrive in Dahab, about an hour or two later, we set our stuff down in the lobby of our hostel. A tour guide approaches us since we had asked that we be able to talk to one upon arrival. We decide to take this safari trip that afternoon. So we had two hours to walk around, eat, clean up a little bit, and board the SUV which was taking us into the desert. Our first stop was a giant sand dune where a few of us went sand boarding (I had already done so and for that reason I passed on the opportunity). He only allowed a few to people to go before we had to retreat to the car and head to the White Canyons. There we repelled down into the canyon and hiked through it for over an hour.

Just as we reached the small oasis on the other side, it started to rain. You can imagine my delight since I have not seen rain in many months now. At the oasis we had lunch with a Bedouin family which was unbelievably delicious. (Btw, I do not believe I have ever eaten so much rice in my life as I do here.) After lunch, we drove off towards the Colored Canyons. Unfortunately it was pretty dark by this time and the colors were not as predominant as they should have been. I did my best to capture the rainbow rocks, but I believe my cameras failed me for the most part.

After a short hike through these canyons, we took a 3 hour drive to this small bedouin village where we had dinner and slept next to the Red Sea. Now I realize I just said slept…let me correct myself – I attempted to sleep. First outside, right next to the water, however that became too cold so I went into the little hut hoping to block some of the wind. Once in the hut, I still was unable to sleep because it sounded like a hurricane was going on outside of the hut with the wind howling. The sleepless night was worth it when I got to wake up to this:

After waking and having a simple breakfast, we lounged around waiting for our camels to arrive. After they arrived, four hours later than when they were supposed to, we did a little snorkeling. This is when I discovered I no longer enjoyed snorkeling as I prefer to be under the sea, exploring with the fish (i.e. Scuba diving). Snorkeling over with, we mounted our camels and headed on our journey back towards the hostel. We had an hour and half camel ride on this small path in between the Sinai Mountains and the Red Sea. It was just a beautiful sight…the mountains towering over us on one side, the waves crashing against the shore and Saudi Arabia across the sea on the other side.

We returned to the Hostel around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. We went to get food, clean up and took about an hour nap before we left to go somewhere else at 11pm. This time we were headed to Mt. Sinai. We climbed the mountain during the night so that we could watch the sun rise in the morning. During the climb, it was hot and muggy. But when you reach the top, it is freezing – being covered in sweat really does not help in this situation. We all find a spot to watch the sun begin its ascent and shiver a little more. To be perfectly honest, the sunrise was a little underwhelming. (Perhaps I tend to over think everything and imagine it as this glorious entity that takes place or exists. That could be why I am so disappointed when I reach such important monuments.) But it was absolutely stunning on this one point of the mountain:

By now, I have gone three days without sleep. You can imagine how easy it was to upset me or get on my bad side. It started with my camera which decided not to work anymore once we reached the top and I finished the roll of film that was in it already. Considering this is my prized possession and what I call “my baby” I was a little enraged at its failure to work properly. However, I got over it as we started walking back down the mountain. Except this time, we did not use the camel path that we climbed up on, but the 3,700 steps that are “quicker” to go down. Let me just say this about that endeavor: OW. My knees and quads and calves – everything hurt by the end of that climb down.

We returned to the hostel. That was the first night that we were actually able to sleep. And it was glorious. Well actually I slept from about 3 in the afternoon until 6pm where we all got up, took showers, and went out to eat and walk around town. We came across this little shop filled with vibrant paintings that exuded exactly how I felt this part of Egypt looked like. And at that time, the artist was actually in the store, painting another picture when we walked in. I bought two paintings – one for me and one for my brother as a gift, however, I must admit I am tempted to keep it for myself.

After our little outing, we went straight to bed since we were all still very tired. I woke up early the next morning so that Rochell and I could go on our Scuba trip. We went to the site called “The Lighthouse” but it failed in comparison to the sites I dived in Hurghada. I did however, see at least 7 Napoleon fish which is odd. Three were even swimming together which seemed even more strange. I suppose Dahab is a place where anything can happen.

Shortly after diving, we boarded a bus and headed back home…well, to our Egyptian home. So as you can see, my relaxing week on the beach was a lie. I never even made it to the beach in Dahab. However, I had amazing experiences that I would not trade for just laying on a beach.

Also this was my beautiful camel, Bullwinkle. He is a stud 🙂

So the past week or so has been pretty quiet. I have been working like crazy here – I swear that I have done more homework here than I have my entire college career. The person who told me this school was easy lied to my face…a big fat lie. I was informed about a week ago that this school is considered the Harvard of Egypt as it is the best college in the entire country.

I did not sign up for that.
School is getting in the way of my vacation. (Just kidding)

However, I did do something pretty amazing last weekend.I got my Open Water Diver certificate. YES!! I am now able to dive 18m deep in the ocean or sea or which ever I so choose. We travelled to Hurghada where we went diving in the Red Sea. I was able to PET a Moray Eel. I PET AN EEL!!!! How many people are able to say that?

I find that while I am here I am trying things that I never really would have while sitting at home. Petting an eel, playing tic tac toe at the bottom of the ocean and dancing with a clown fish were never things I thought I would be able to do. And yet I have done them and it felt as though it was no big deal…crazy.

The weekend that just passed was supposed to be a big adventure. We were going to travel to Nuweiba and climb Mt Sinai. Now, climbing a mountain is on my bucket list so I was ALL about this. However, there was a sand storm which caused the school to cancel our trip. I should not have been surprised, since this is after all Egypt and nothing happens when its supposed to, but I was shocked and pissed off to say the least. I had cleared my entire weekend to be off scaling mountains and tanning on the beach only to have that shattered and left with nothing (that is nothing in the terms of plans).

My name is Justine and I am a photo addict. It has been one day since my last fix…Every time I get in front of an action, scene, or person that I find poetic or interesting or truthful, I cannot help but pick up either of my cameras and snap a photograph. And yes, I have more than one camera…I have it bad. For me, hearing the click of the shutter is like the climactic point of an adult film.

I’m addicted.

On a serious note, I took over 250 pictures in the allotted three days that I spent in Luxor and Aswan. Hence why I have come to the conclusion that I am a photo junkie. Not a pleasant term, but there it is nonetheless.

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The funny thing is, all those photos basically look the same unless you are an Ancient Egyptian fanatic as myself or you were actually there. The trip was filled with temple after temple after temple. We were rushed through every single place we went and were yelled at for taking pictures while we were supposed to be listening to the tour guide. Touring ancient sites seems to be the only time when Egyptians actually pay attention to the time. After two days of running around, the sites were beginning to run together and I couldn’t tell the difference between the Philae Temple and Kom Ombo.

Now the trip started in Aswan where we boarded a cruise ship. The rooms were nice enough, but my favorite part was the pool on the upper deck. Savannah and I would lie on the deck every chance we got. However, our love of sun tanning while cruising down the Nile was soon ruined when the workers would randomly come upstairs just to stare at us. It got to the point where we would throw our towels over ourselves when a crew member came upstairs — they usually walked right back down when they noticed the show was cancelled.

While in Aswan, we went to a little Nubian village. Here we were led into an old school madrasa (ironic phrasing since madrasa means school). We sat in benches placed in an out cove of the building and listened to the teacher speak about the basics of their language. After our little lesson we went to the top of the school where we were met with this gorgeous view of the small village and the Nile. After more picture time, we all went down to have tea and/or hibiscus drink. This was the moment where they brought out a baby crocodile for al of us to hold and take pictures…I definitely took advantage of that!!

Our first night in Aswan, we went to the local souq (market) where we could practice our haggling skills. I ended up spending around 212 egyptian pounds which roughly translates into 37 dollars. With this I was able to buy a silver necklace with a charm, two pashmina scarves, and a pair of harem pants…not too shabby if I dare say. We slept in the ship while it was docked in Aswan. The next morning Savannah and I went out to buy water somewhere that didn’t cost 12 pounds. On the way there we were harassed everywhere we stepped. Someone even ran up to me and touched my hair. This is where I almost lost my calm and had to refrain from hitting someone. But at least we got water for only 3 pounds.

Once back on the boat, we set sail for Kom Ombo where we would tour the temple for an hour then head back to the boat. The rest of the day was spent on the cruise ship while we sailed down the Nile towards Edfu. With all the free time, the majority of the students (including myself and Savannah) were either in the pool or on the lounge chairs. Savannah went downstairs for some reason and I got up to look out into the passing scenery. While leaning against the rail, I was approached by the bartender who held a tray with a single drink on it. He started speaking Arabic which I did not understand because he was speaking way too fast and my skills aren’t that high yet. Eventually he began to speak Aranglish (a mixture of Arabic and English) and I was able to understand the “woman at the bar” and “free” and “come with me.” I assume he was saying that the couple at the bar was trying to buy me a drink and he wanted me to come and speak with them. I denied the drink several times (he was very stubborn) and went to where more people were sitting. That night we had a little dance party with little competitions. At this time, the couple previously mentioned arrived in the dance room. The woman, who was dressed in this extremely slutty dress that showed everything she had to offer, would then try to join our group without realizing that we were a group playing games and she was being a nuisance. Savannah is intrigued with them so she decides to strike up a conversation. They tell her some story about how they are on their honeymoon and met six months ago. The man was from Saudi Arabia and the woman was from Morocco. Thy had no rings on either. The assumption from our RA was that she was really a prostitute and he her patron. Apparently, she was not enough or our prostitution theory was wrong and they were really into human trafficking or something to that extent because they told Savannah their room number and that they were waiting. I am SO glad I denied that drink, who knew what could have happened. (Thank you movies for making me paranoid about everything.)

Around 6 in the morning we got up to take a tour of the Edfu Temple – the second largest temple in Egypt. After about 45 minutes of touring, we headed back to the boat and were on our way to Luxor. Up until this point I was thoroughly enjoying my trip so far; however, Luxor was a big disappointment. Now this is not the city’s fault, but the tour’s fault. We went to see the Valley of the Kings which was horrid for the following reasons: 1) you were not allowed to even bring your camera into the valley 2) the tomb of King Tut was a large extra fee and the tomb of Ramses II was closed 3) the sellers there would refuse to leave you alone while they shoved their items into your face. It was an interesting site, but I honestly don’t recommend it. After that, we went to a small factory which specialized in alabaster. We saw the process the men went through in forming the objects and went inside to buy items we fancied. I was thrown off at first because the prices were in US dollars and they seemed unusually high. But I was able to talk the guy down for two items. I went to get my items wrapped and was handed two separate bags; this did not seem strange since two separate men wrapped my items. However, when I boarded the bus the guy came up and said that someone received an extra item and it was believed to be me. I opened my bags and what do you know, there are three items there. After deciding that re-opening the wrappings and figuring out which is which was not worth the effort I was able to keep all three as a gift.

After that our bus had to make a decision: either continue to Hatshepsut Temple and miss lunch as well as the Luxor Temple or choose lunch and go to Luxor Temple later that night. At this point, it has been 9 hours since we have eaten and we are all starving. Not to mention our RAs told us not to miss Luxor Temple. So we headed back to the ship and had lunch and a little free time before we headed to Luxor Temple. Honestly, at this time the temple did not look like anything special. It looked just like every other temple I saw that weekend.

Overall the trip was great. I only had a few complaints which revolved around limited food supplies and annoying people on the street and such. As well as not really seeing anything while in Luxor which is full of so many ancient sites.

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Yesterday I went sand boarding. Now I have never participated in anything even close to such a thing. Skiing, Snow boarding, Surfing…all elude me. yet I got the smart idea of trying to slide down a giant sand dune on nothing but a small board that resembles a snowboard – the difference being that a snowboard actually has a mold to hold your feet in while a sand board only has little straps you slide you feet under. After several times of falling on my butt, I finally got the hang of it went down the hill…a little bit. I refused to go all the way down because the climb is like death. And lets face it, I am a lazy person. After a few hours of climbing up and sliding down, we have lunch and head home. I arrive to my dorm covered in every possible way with sand and a bruised bottom. Happiness is.

To say I have experienced a lot the past few days would be the under statement of the year. Khan al-Khalili, City Stars, and the Pyramids all within the last three days…Yes, as a matter of fact, I am exhausted.

Khan al-Khalili is this giant market place in Islamic Cairo where you haggle for the price of the souvenir you wish to buy. Now I thought haggling would be easy for me since I LOVE to argue….wrong!! The guys give you this guilt trip just to get you into the tiny hallways they call a store and then continue to guilt you into a higher price. Now thankfully, for me, I had my lovely friend Khalil who jumped in and started yelling with the man about prices. I stood there awkwardly, feeling as though I was stealing this man’s child until finally Khalil got the price down an extra 60 pounds– the man works magic.

Now when you first enter Khan al-Khalili there is plenty of space and the vendors just stand idly by their little stores or stands. However, the further you walk into the market, the closer the confines become and the more people there are. The floor became this muddy, liquidy, cardboardy paste type of thing. [I am definitely glad I decided to wear tennis shoes that day.] People were running around and bumping into you everywhere you turned. I swear my butt was touched more than a baseball player going up to bat. But as long as you do not have personal space issues, this is definitely an experience.
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Now City Stars puts any mall I have ever been in to shame…and I only went on one floor. On this one floor were many stores of all kinds that I did not have time to enter, but merely gawked at the items in the windows. [I do know that I have to go back and discover the price of a dress I want to stuff into my suitcase.] Also on this floor is a food court and the equivalent of a super wal-mart. Now keep in mind everything I just listed is on one floor. This mall has at least six floors within the building.

Now, as I am always likely to do, I bought way too many groceries and had the unfortunate experience of having to lug them all the way back to campus. I had to load mine, and three other people’s items into the trunk of a taxi. Well, this trunk was mainly taken by some strange tank in the back so only a few bags would fit and every other bag was squeezed into the cabin with all of us. Once we finally reached the school, we had to stop at the gate, so the guards could check all of our bags, then walk even more to where our dorms are situated. This is definitely enough to make you miss the convenience  of a car and a kitchen that is close to your parking spot.
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So…the pyramids lacked the special quality that I was expecting. Granted, expecting the heavens to open and light begin shining down onto the tops of each pyramid while glitter floats in the air may be a bit much, I did expect more than I saw. I just wanted less people to be there so that I could get better pictures without someone else’s big head in the way – yet again, I know, asking too much.

When we first get there, I take my designated super touristy pictures so that I can now focus on the more artistic forms of photography. After many pictures and a history lesson, we start heading to the side of the first pyramid. This is where we are affronted by men with camels who want us to ride for money. All of us say no causing them to ask us to just take a picture with the camel. Now, we assume this means standing next to said camel while a picture is taken; however, the guy then puts me on the camel where I assume my friend and I are just going to sit on the camel while a picture is taken. Wrong again. The guy makes a clicking noise and the camel gets up and starts walking. Apparently he is going to take our picture in front of the pyramids while on a camel – this is fine until he refuses to let us down until we pay him an amount that suits him. [Which, by the way, is 120 pounds more than they originally said for a camel ride.] Thankfully, our tour guide (Moodi) saw what happened and came running over, yelling at the man. We got 100 pounds back which made me very happy. After that experience, I avoided anyone who offered anything on the sands in Giza.

Well, I have officially been living in Cairo for a week. Maybe saying Cairo is putting it too loosely. My campus is located in New Cairo, which is an hour away from downtown Cairo and is surrounded by desert. The closest development is a cluster of houses in the making. So while twiddling my thumbs in the middle of nowhere Egypt I have been making a list of places in which I hope to travel:
Turkey
Morocco
Jordan
Lebanon
Palestine

Now I realize being here for only a semester is a hinderance to my plan of traveling everywhere the Middle East has to offer. In all reality, I hope to at least make it to Turkey while I am here.
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Now when I finally arrived at the Cairo Airport, I was excited to be out of an airplane and in the country I have dreamed about for years. But before I could start my voyage, I had to get through security and obtain my bags followed by customs. Security was easy enough; however, my bags were the only ones on the entire flight that were put on Air France (I flew Delta). Thankfully that flight was landing right after ours. Customs…well I didn’t have to go through customs? After receiving my bags, I was able to walk right out of the airport. It was strange.

As soon as I stepped out of the building, I was shocked. The city was bustling and the air was questionable. I say questionable because it was so thick and filled with lord only knows what that I doubt it could really be called air. The people; however, were very nice and helped get all our bags into the shuttles taking us to our dorms.

On the way to campus I saw my life flash before my eyes countless times. That is not even exaggerated. Driving here is more dangerous than getting into a closed cage with a hungry lion while wearing a steak necklace. People drive between, on and around the lines. Flashing their lights and honking their horns at every passing car is customary. And driving on the wrong side of the road towards on coming traffic is way of passage for these drivers.

Once safely on Campus, we all dragged our luggage across campus to where the dorms were stationed. Bags lined the halls as girls (and guys, on the other side) tried to sign in and discover their new living area. Up to that point, no one knew what room they had or who they were rooming with. I still have no idea who I am rooming with as she has yet to arrive. For awhile I believe I was the only one in my unit (the dorms are separated into separate buildings – or units), but now I finally hear movement in the building.

During an orientation, the campus rules were discussed. Men are not to enter the women’s dorm area and vice versa. If that rule is broken, the student will be packed and leaving the dorms within 30 minutes. Here, men and women are not even allowed to touch really. Now I was expecting a form of conservatism, but I underestimated it by far. Holding hands, hugging for more than 5 seconds, and kissing are all taboo. PDA is not heard of when it comes to this culture.
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Last night I made my first venture into downtown Cairo with a friend. [IMPORTANT: As a woman, never travel alone in this country. It just isn’t safe.] Once we arrived downtown, we had to take a taxi to meet a friend in a different area. Taxis here come in two varieties, white and black. If you can, always take a white taxi. White taxis either have a meter or they negotiate the price beforehand which is usually reasonable. We caught two white taxis to meet our friend (we went to the wrong place at first and had to catch another cab). The first was a decent price, but the second charged us way too much. Negotiating is something I will have to get used to.

Once with our friend, we went to a local place for a girl in our group to break the fast. Right now is where I should mention that it is Ramadan where muslims fast all day and feast at night. We went to a place called “Falfela” which specializes in the making of Foul, Taameya, Koushary, and Shawerma. I had a foul sandwich with tahini (this is smashed fava beans with a special sauce) which came out looking like an uncrustable you get at school cafeterias. Once you get over the looks and texture, it is actually a very tasty dish. Dinner was followed by a visit to an egyptian bakery where I was in heaven and could have spent my entire holding of egyptian pounds.

After indulging my sweet tooth, we walked around downtown for awhile. We had to cross the street many times which is not as easy a thing to do as it is in the states. Here, there may be crosswalks, but the drivers ignore them. You have to brave it, and weave between the on coming cars that are speeding towards you. It is pretty scary when you have cars honking and screeching their breaks around you every 5 seconds. While walking the streets, the girls in our group were constantly hit on and talked to. If this happens, please, keep walking and ignore what they are saying. Replying only makes things worse.

As a side note, my group consisted of four girls and one guy. While walking around, we were thought to be our guy friend’s four wives. Yea, its legal here for a muslim man to have up to four wives at a time. Go figure.

A little later, we needed to get to another part of town so that a few people in our group could look at an apartment. We hailed a cab, unfortunately a black cab, and were on our way. When we got there a girl, who has been here for months and knows the way things work, handed him 7 pounds and we got out of the car. He apparently was not happy with that amount and started following and yelling at us. We ducked into a bookstore nearby, but before my friend could enter, the guy caught up with her and ended up pushing her (this is a big no no). Thankfully, the guy behind us saw this and stood up to confront the taxi driver who ran away.

After taxis, confrontations, haggling, and walking, I finally headed back to campus with my friend from the beginning. I took a quick shower, popped some sleeping pills, and crawled into bed to play sudoku. *sigh*