Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A wee bit in denial

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Hola todos!! Welcome to the wonderful world of Goldhammer’s thoughts. I am new to this whole blogging thing but it seems to be the thing to do when heading abroad so stay with me and I’ll try to keep you entertained. Having spent the past three days living it up in Freddy with UMW friends, it is hard to believe that I will be spending the next semester in a different country. It has been so easy to slip back into the routine of hanging out constantly and strolling down campus walk. Aside from the fact that I currently have no class schedule or even a definite idea of what classes I will be taking, I can totally picture myself starting the semester here tomorrow. But alas, my future holds two days full of packing and organizing followed by a day and a half of traveling. Let’s go! My flight plans include a quick trip from Baltimore to Philly, a long flight from Philly to Frankfurt, Germany, and then a final jaunt to Bilbao, España – my new home away from home. I am, of course, super excited to be starting this new chapter of my life and am starting to feel super grown up but I am also feeling slightly overwhelmed and apprehensive – guess that’s to be expected?? I know that I will miss the frisbee practices, trips to the nesty-poo, team dinners, and crazy study sessions. I will also miss having my family near by or just a phone call away but bring on the adventures… Europe here I come!! Lots of Love, Em

3 more days!!

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Hello everyone! First and foremost, if you are currently reading this, I would like to thank you for taking the time to check in on my blog! I hope that I will be able to update this regularly throughout my trip. Secondly, I hope everyone is doing well and recovering from Hurricane Irene. It may be a good thing that I am leaving the country with all these natural disasters haha ;) . Well, in just 3 short days I will be on a flight to the wonderful country of Spain! I am primarily excited, but as most of you could probably guess, I am a little nervous too. Just the newness of everything and the element of the unknown can be a bit overwhelming, but I know once I get there, many of those nerves will go away quickly. I am all packed for the most part. I have two large suitcases, both just barely under the 50 lb. weight limit, and a 40 lb. carry on. It was very hard for me to pick and chose what to bring, especially considering the fact that I will need a mixture of Summer and Fall/Winter clothes. Shoes were the hardest thing to pack, considering I could probably (and sometimes do) have a whole suitcase of just shoes alone! haha :) My flight leaves from Phili at 8:30 Wednesday night. I have a layover in Germany and will arrive in Bilbao on Thursday around 1:15 PM. I think I may be on the same flight as another UMW student, so it will be good to see a familiar face. I will definitely update my Facebook/Blog to let you know when I arrive safely! I also want to take this opportunity to let all of you know how much I will miss you! To all of my family and friends, I love you and I will do my absolute best to keep in touch. To my friends down at Mary Washington, I miss you guys already! Thank you for a great visit. A special shoutout to my roommates for giving me a place to stay and to all of Class Council for an amazing Glow Zone Dance! Leaving Fredericksburg was very hard, and a few tears were definitely shed. If I didn’t get to see you before I left, I am very sorry, and I can’t wait to see you when I get back! Last but definitely not least: to my Mom and Dad, thank you so much for all your support! I know I would not be going on this trip if it weren’t for you. Words cannot describe how much I will miss you guys, but all I can say is thank God for Skype and Facebook! To my little brother, Bran, do your homework and study hard! I’ll miss you, and whenever I don’t understand something, I will always remember your favorite Spanish phrase, “No se!” haha. I love you all so much! That is all for now! Love, Jen

North Korea

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I’m freaked out but alive and fine. Will update later when I have internet at the homestay again.

EDIT: Just finished typing most of a blog post but it’s time to leave work. I do not currently have internet at the homestay but I will try to post something tonight (remember, I’m 14 hours ahead of you) or maybe tomorrow.  For now I leave you with this, to make you feel better about me being in Korea.

Yeonpyeong Island (where the shooting was): (small island in the Yellow sea)

Where I am: (tiny little rural town in Cheongcheong-nam province, about 1 cm west of “cheonan” on this map. My town is small so when I google search “yesan map” nothing comes up.

I really appreciate everyone’s concern. I’ll do my best to keep you updated.

Workers’ Fight, Cont’d

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Here are some updates and more information regarding the workers’ struggle on the AUC campus for better working conditions.

The following is a copy of the petition that students signed in order to demonstrate their support for the workers’. It outlines the five key issues that are being contended.

“To: AUC Community

We, the undersigned, support AUC workers’ legitimate demands to:

1.Receive a gross minimum monthly wage of 1,200 EGP (which means less than 1000EGP net) with equal pay for all workers who hold the same position.
2.Have Saturday as an official holiday for the AUC workers as it is for all those employed in the maintenance, service departments and the administration. If one is to work on Saturday they shall receive overtime pay for their work.
3.Receive 200 EGP as meal compensation (or an adequate meal) in addition to the salary.
4.Receive annual salary raise of no less than 10% on the original wage of each worker. This percentage is subject to be increased by the administration.
5.Receive Social Insurance coverage that includes all the years of service to the AUC.

Negotiations between workers’ delegates and the administration are currently taking place. The workers are determined to continue the strike until all their demands are met.


The Undersigned ”

The workers’ strike had ended by October 31st. When I saw the workers walking around on campus when I arrived to campus on the 31st, I was happy. I had assumed that they had gotten their demands met. I later found out that this was not the case. The strike only ended because the workers were unable to financially afford to continue the strike. They either did not have a strike fund or it was not adequate enough. The biggest result of the strike was to raise awareness on campus about the conditions of the workers. The administration also partially met some of the demands. For instance, they agreed to let the workers take one Saturday off per month and have agreed to give them a meal stipend. In addition, they also agreed to raise the worker’s wages and to increase those wages each year, but the amount has not been specified.

Since these measures have been inadequate, further negotiations are continuing between the administration and workers. There was a round of negotiations on Thursday. To show solidarity with the workers, some students and faculty took a stand outside the administration building to send a message to the administration that the students and faculty are aware of the negotiations are taking place and that we expect favorable outcomes for the workers’.

I stood with fellow students and held up a sign. A classmate of mine turned up later and we held the sign together. He, however, was trying to use it as a shield to block his face. He did not want anyone walking past to recognize him. The only reason he was there was because his professor had taken the class to the stand for the first twenty or so minutes of class. He did not feel very comfortable being there, even though he supports the workers. Also, since he is Asian, he felt as though he stood out a lot since the groups was entirely Arab, expect for the two of us and one of his fellow classmates.

There definitely can be a sense of vulnerability and exposure when one participates in an event like this. I was surprised to find myself uncomfortable in the beginning as well and not sure how to interact/respond to the people walking past or looking on. It’s not as though there was any hostility against us, of the students that are aware of the situation, a vast majority are in support of the workers. The petition that mentioned earlier got 2,007 people from the AUC community to sign it. Also, there was no threat of violence and I had nothing to personally lose or gain by standing there. It was an entirely safe environment and I never felt at risk. So why did this feeling exposure, of having to somehow defend and justify myself and my beliefs arise? As time went on, I got used to being there and began chatting with the people around me. Soon, I felt perfectly comfortable.

My respect for the workers and their courage to go on strike has increased greatly. I cannot imagine what they were going through mentally and emotionally as they went on strike, and now as they continue to wonder how the whole situation will unfold in the upcoming weeks and months.

One Club, Two Groups

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Two weekends ago, I attended the Help Reception, which is an even that the Help Club, which is community service oriented, puts on every year with different skits, short films, speakers, and photos. Pretty much all of it was in Arabic so I had a friend translate that big ideas for me. While the show itself was very excellent and brought up many interesting criticisms into the Palestinian issue and Egyptian politics, what struck me the most about the evening was the glaring gender divide.

The club is entirely segregated into male and female groups. All the pictures of club events and activities either featured either all girls or all boys. The entire show itself appeared to be entirely made by the boys. All the skits featured male actors, all the movies features male actors, all the speakers were male. The only girl on stage was one of the announcers and even she spoke less than the male counterpart. A majority of the pictures too were of the boy’s group and their activities. As I watched the program progress, I was constantly wondering when the girls would appear. Also, while I didn’t realize it at the time, the audience seating was segregated, or at least it was strongly encouraged to be segregated with guys on one side and girls on another. I asked my friend why it was like this, why was the club so segregated? She told me one reason was for the girls to feel comfortable. If they are doing some project and want to dance or something, they can be more free and do not have to worry about unwanted attention or being inappropriate. After the program was over a little celebration by club members took place. The boys in the club and their friends all swarmed the stage. They began clapping, cheering and chanting, carried each other on one another’s shoulders, and threw some members in the air. After they calmed down, they gathered near the front of the stage for a group picture. The girls, meanwhile, were in quiet, happy group by the stage. They received flowers and were hugging or taking pictures with each other…a big contrast from the boisterous and exuberant time the boys were having.

It seemed that boys were having a lot more fun, had more energy, and creativity. If I were to participate in that club, I would want to join the boy’s group, since it seemed much more lively and engaging than the girls. I began wondering why they even were in one club together, why not just make two separate clubs since they seemed to be doing different things anyways.

After the program had ended, the club members and audience had the chance to mingle, eat food, and drink coffee. I saw another one of my friends there who was a member of the club and she invited me to a service project the next day at an orphanage. I agreed to it and she told me that they would be meeting at the McDonald’s in Tahrir Square. Although I came on time the next day, I arrived well before anyone else did. Eventually, I saw a group of young adults gathering a little down the street. “Are you the Help club?” I asked two girls. They looked at me with surprise, and appeared almost offended. “Uhhh…are you helping out at an orphanage today?” I asked. They said that they were, but they were not Help, they were VIA or Volunteers in Action. My friend is in several clubs and neglected to tell me that it was VIA nor Help that we were joining that day. The reason that they seemed offended when I asked them they were Help is because there is some dislike between the two groups. I began talking to the girls about the Help Reception that I went to the night before and brought up the gender divide that I had seen. They were very critical of that divide and that was the biggest reason that they did not like that club and did not participate in it. They said that there are several other service clubs on campus like that. Also, since the majority of the girls in those clubs are veiled, they were perceived by the VIA girls I was talking to as being less accepting and critical of unveiled girls in their group, especially if they were Muslim. Then today, I saw that my friend had a Help folder and asked her is she was part if the club. She emphatically said that she was not. They were too religious she said. This comment was really interesting since she wears a hijab and normally is clad in a black abeyya (robe). Anyone that looks at her would probably assume that she too was very religious.

Pictures of Protest

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Mercy for Workers

Security. The blue sign in the distance says that they students stand with the workers.


Women's Bathroom

Trash on Campus

“Man on the Floor!”

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

“Man on the Floor!…Man on the Floor!…Man on the Floor!” The second or third day after moving in to my room in Zamalek, I did not know why in the world a woman was yelling in the hallway. I could not hear the words clearly through the door and didn’t want to open my door to see what was happening since I was in a comfortable position. Later, I discovered that she was yelling “Man on the Floor!”. No, a man had not fallen on the floor, but was present on the floor. Whenever a man is in the girl’s side of the dorms, a female guard escorts him. She will notify the entire floor of his presence by yelling. She will close the bathroom door and bedroom doors as well. Once, a girl who was in the bathroom when the door was shut could not get back out. It had apparently locked and she had no way to unlock it from the inside. She was in there for quite some time calling for salvation until a passerby heard her and freed her. That girl was me…Just kidding! But it could have been.

In the beginning I found the whole warning system highly amusing and slightly ridiculous. It felt like the entire floor was going on lock-down. My dorms at home were co-ed and last year my RA was male. If there was a man on the floor, who cared?  But, the warning is very useful and welcome to many of the girls who wear hijabs. Since they normally do not wear them when they are in their rooms or hanging around the floor, they would feel extremely uncomfortable if a man were to appear without warning and saw them unveiled. It is nice to for those who have just come out of the shower and are walking back to their rooms with only a towel.

Whenever there needs to be some mechanical maintenance done to the room, a man is normally sent up. The woman guard will then supervise the job and the door will remain open. This was interesting. Do I need to be protected from the maintenance workers? Should I feel threatened, vulnerable, or uncomfortable being in a room alone with them while they do their job? If there was a women worker in a male students room, I doubt there would have to be a male guard watching over. I had asked some of the boys if there is ever a “Woman on the Floor!” warning on their side of the dorms. Nope, any work that needs to be done there is done by women.

A Fight for Rights

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Campus looked much different today. Trash was overflowing from garbage cans, empty bottles and boxes stood guard over steps, toilet paper was tangled up on the bathroom floor yet none could be found in their proper dispensers. Campus felt emptier today, some presence that is normally overlooked in the background was suddenly, noticeably gone. Starting yesterday, the maintenance workers have gone on strike. They gathered in the open passage way between the administrative building and HUSS. Sitting on the bamboo seats that normally hold students, they formed a determined group facing the administrative building. Some upheld signs. Some of them read, “We need out Rights!!” and “Mercy for Worker” in English. All around them stands Security, a disperse yet very apparent blue ring. I had heard about the strikes yesterday, but they began after I was already on the opposite side of campus and preparing to catch the bus so I did not get to see it. Today I walked past and through it numerous times since I had three classes in HUSS. Throughout the day I noticed it grow larger in size as students joined them. Also, around campus I saw the trash starting to pile up, a clear symbol of the importance of the workers. The workers are on strike for many reasons. I will come back and add on to this post once I get more concrete facts, yet the key points they are fighting for are increased wages, health insurance, Saturday off of work, and better quality meals. I’m not entirely sure about the validity of the following statements, but from what I understand, currently they only make around 600 LE per month, which is only a little over $100. Of that, 200 LE is taken away for food. The food that they are served is of poor quality, small quantity, and there have even been cockroaches found inside. In addition, they work every single day of the week, have long hours, and then have the two hour round trip commute to and from campus. Some professors cancelled clas today. My Political Sociology professor canceled class to show solidarity with the workers and he was out at the strike for most of the day. I went to the strike during that canceled class hour and at this point in the strike, the negotiations between the administration and the workers had already begun about an hour and a half earlier. When negotiations began there was a lot of cheering, singing of the national anthem, and noise-making. I was trying to take my Arabic midterm at the time and it was very hard to focus since not only was it loud, but I really wanted to go outside and see all that was unfolding. When I did make it to the strike, there were some speakers presenting. There were some students talking, telling the workers that they have the support of the students. I was able to translate a sign in Arabic that translates into “The University students stand with her workers.” In addition, throughout the day students have fed the striking workers and giving them something to drink. In response to the student support, the workers started a short chat of “tuloob, tuloob!” or “students, students!” Next, a very vocal and powerful woman took the mic and began to go over their demands and plans for continuing the strike on Saturday. It will be very interesting to see how events unfold. The TA for my Arabic class was saying that in any other university in Egypt a strike like this would not have been able to take place and that anti-riot police would have shown up and the while things would have been dispersed by now. The reason it is able to take place here is because of its association with America,but more importantly because AUC very many rich students who have influential parents. Thus, the students taking part in the protest do not feel like they have anything to lose and that no harm will come to them for their participation. I find it very ridiculous that this university can treat its workers so poorly. This is the most expensive school in Egypt, has the richest students, and wants to attract international and American students. There is no justification for the poor treatment of the workers and their abysmal wages. The tuition that I pay to AUC is equal to that which I pay in the U.S. and the workers at my school definitely get paid so much more. it is saddening to think that an institution for higher learning which espouses that it is “dedicated to making significant contributions to Egypt” in its mission is able to exploit its workers so nonchalantly. The administration is most likely to give in, yet probably not because it cares about workers rights, but since it wants to attract financial support and international students…and since they will get tired of wading through trash.

Ma’a Salam

*This Post was written Thursday, October 28. I accidentally posted it on my other UMW blog.

Typical Wednesday

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Here is a peak into a normal Wednesday, my busiest day of the week.

Its 6:45am. Groggily, I fumble with my cell phone to turn of the alarm that reminds me a new day is about to begin. After showering, eating, and packing my bags, I stride down three blocks to catch the 7:40 am bus. The ride to the new campus can take anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes. Luckily, it is only 50 minutes today. I read a book for a class, dozing in and out occasionally. When AUC’s campus looms ahead, I pack my book and prepared to disembark. Once at the campus, I pass through the bus pass checkers, then line up to go through security where I scan my ID, pass through a metal turnstyle, place my back pack on the x-ray machine conveyor belt, and walk through the metal detector. My smiling face shows up on a computer screen so the security can confirm my identity. I walk through the campus, glancing at the workers sweeping up orange flowers that have fallen from their trees. I make my way to the KwikMart stand where I buy thick and delicious mango nectar in a bottle. Its not as good as the fresh stuff served at fresh fruit stands, but it still beats anything else in the States. I make my way to the library to finalize an outline for my presentation for my Palestinian and Refugee Issue grad class later in the day. Once 9:50 rolls around, I gather my things and head across campus for my ‘amiyya (Egyptian colloquial) class. Today is a bit cooler than yesterday, but still, I can barely keep my eyes open as I cross the giant stone courtyard, the bright, white sun beating down on me. At 11:15, the class is over. I make my way to the thick, stone stairs that will lead my to my Third World Development class. Class is very interesting today because the professor shares some personal stories of his trip to Saudi Arabia when he was conducting research for his dissertation. Its 12:45 pm, and people are getting antsy to leave, so he wraps up and sends us on our way. My Modern Standard Arabic class begins in just over an hour and since I have a presentation on Qatar today, I return to the library to look up a few more facts, organize my slides, and practice my speech. By 2 pm, I’m sitting in class, chatting with the other students and the TA as we wait for the Ustaaz (“professor”) to show up. The presentations go well, and since there are only six of us, we finish before class is over and can leave early. After class, I head to to Al-Omda, the most Egyptian and cheapest food joint on campus and order t’amiyya, the Egyptian version of felafel. I savor it in peace while over looking the desert and a few distant buildings in the distance. My bus to the old campus, where my Palestinian class meets, is leaving in an hour. In that time, I make minor changes to my outline then make copies for the class. At 4:15, I am seated in the back of a large van. The shock absorbers are not the best, so we bounce around and occasionally fly off our seats. Traffic is pretty bad. Stop and go, stop and go. As I look out the window, a car of young men pulls up beside us. The shotgun passenger tries to make eye contact and flirt with me. I turn my attention to some papers in my lap, pretending to be occupied. After a few minutes I return my attention out the window. The sun is starting to set, warming the sky with rich colors. The tan, old buildings look shabby and out of place against the sky. We are getting closer to downtown. 5:30 is rapidly approaching and the traffic has only gotten worse. Weighing my options, I decide to ditch the van and head in the direction of the campus. At first the van is behind me, then traffic moves and it passes me by a few feet. For a while we play catch up with each other, until it finally turns down a side street and I continue straight ahead. I’m not entirely sure where the campus is located, so I hope that I am going in the right direction and did not foolishly ditch the van. I see a massive Coca-Cola sign glowing in the distance and relief floods me; I’m going in the right direction and I’m getting closer. A few minutes after 5:30 I make it to campus, went through security, and settled down for class. The next two and a half hours are filled with student presentations and a guest speaker. The speaker is really passionate about his research into the distribution of aid to Palestinian’s in the West Bank and Gaza, so the last half hour flies by as he enthusiastically shares his ideas. A little after 8, class is over. My friend and I head to another guest speakers presentation on campus about urban refugees. We go to the wrong place at first, but finally find it. It is just wrapping up as we arrive (it had begun at 7:30). However, we get to listen to question and answers. Since the room was only reserved until 9, we have to leave although questions were still being brought up. My friend and I set out into the streets of downtown, wandering and searching for a new place to eat. On the way, we pass by various street vendors selling books, lighters, office supplies, and souvenirs. I greet a book seller in Arabic and proceed to look at some books. He shows me an Arabic children’s book that teaches kids their letters. Each letter has a word beginning with that letter and a corresponding picture. I flip through the alphabet reading the words. He helps me to read and pronounce them properly. Yay for impromptu Arabic lessons! After we finish the book I told him “Shukraan Ustaaz, Ma’a Salaam!” and we head on our way. We spot a fruit shop and get fresh date milkshakes. The worker just plops dates in a blender with some liquid (milk and sugar I presume) and before we know it we have deliciously thick and rich shakes. We wonder where the dates are from and the worker goes to the back and hands us each a chilled, brown date. Yum. But, now for some real food. We come across a small restaurant and I order a liver sandwich. One of the men working there asks me if I am Egyptian. Jokingly I say I am, but moments later I tell him I am American. I find it interesting when people think I’m Egyptian. I’ve gotten that comment a several times and have had people just start speaking Arabic to me. Anyways, while I wait for my sandwich, I start talking to the cashier and attempt to read some signs around the restaurant with his aid. Finally, my food was ready. The chef is a jokster and holds up my sandwich really high as I go to get it. I play along a bit. Soon, my sandwich is nestled snug and warm in my hands and we began our trek back to Zamalek after a quick perusal of an Egyptian bakery. Our journey takes us across several lanes of traffic, under an expressway, past a bus station, across a bridge spanning the Nile, and finally, on the streets of Zamalek. After quick stops to an ATM and a small grocery stand for some water we had arrive back to the dorms. Our bags are checked and we walk through the metal detectors. As we are about to enter the lobby, we are stopped. “You need to sign in” we are told by one of the guards. “What? What time is it?…11:20 pm!?! No Way! How did it get so late?”. It feels much earlier for some strange reason. We shrug our shoulders and go to our respective rooms to begin out homework. On the way to my room I chat with some floor mates. Finally, I settle down in my room around midnight. Oh, Wednesdays.


Saturday, October 16th, 2010


Last week I traveled with some friends to Dahab, a city on the Sinai Peninsula situated right on the coast of Aqaba. Its a small, resort town with restaurants overlooking the water.

Dahab at night

Good thing I left my camel at home.

That week practically every study abroad student traveled somewhere. Wednesday was the 6th of October, the day when Egypt regained the Sinai Peninsula from Israel. Egyptians are extremely proud of this day and there are roads and bridges named in its memory. Since we do not have class on Tuesday and the weekend begins on Friday, everyone planned on skipping Thursday and making it into a five day holiday. All my classes on Thursday ended up being canceled so I did not have to worry about missing class.

The bus ride there took about nine hours. There were about five or so checkpoints that the bus went through. Officials are supposed to look at our passports at these points, however, my bus driver had a good relationship with them. Often, they would only check a few in the front and then let us all through. Not once was mine checked. I was really relieved, since I did not have my passport with me because my student visa was still being processed. I just brought a copy of it with me since I heard that was normally enough, especially for Americans, but still, I could not be entirely sure.

We were lucky to have made it through the check points so smoothly. One of my friends who came to Dahab later said that they were stuck at a checkpoint for about forty five minutes. Everyone had to exit the bus and all of their belongings were looked into. Was that really necessary? Probably not. But while all the points seems just like a show put on by the government to display is presence, the government has some practical reasons for them. For instance, they are used to prevent people from smuggling things like weapons, prevent future bombings in the Sinai from occurring, and keeping politicians (i.e. President Mubarak) safe when they travel through the Sinai. Yet, the sporadic enforcement of the checkpoints and the corruption present in Egypt makes me doubt how effective these points are at creating a safer environment.

It was nice to finally arrive in Dahab and soon it began to feel like summer break. We hung out at restaurants on the coast, swam, snorkeled, shopped, and went on excursions. Most of the restaurants had Bedouin style seating. This means that there are no chairs, just a long pad next to a very short table and lots of pillows. We could lounge there for hours, drinking tea or smoking sheesha (a water pipe). Bedouin girls would come up to us occasionally, trying to sell us jewelry and string bracelets that their mom’s had made. I would practice my Arabic with them and with the waiters.

One night we arranged a trip to hike up Mt.Sinai (جبل موسى) at night and watch the sunrise from the top. We left about Dahab about midnight and started the climb at around 3am. Our group was guided by a Bedouin. I chatted with him for a bit in the beginning. We talked about our families, my studies, and his life. It was rather difficult because the Arabic he spoke sounds quite different from what I am used to and he would use words that I could not understand. His knowledge of the mountain was impressive. He knew exactly where he was going even thought he did not have a light to guide him. We were walking in almost total darkness the entire time. Only two or three people in our group had decided to bring flashlights so I could barely make out the ground, which was strewn with rocks and stones of all sizes. Normally this was okay, but once I walked right into a boulder that came up to mid-calf. the next moment I was sprawled on top of it. My giant water bottle broke, leaking everywhere.The guide offered to help me up and everyone wanted to make sure I was okay. I was and soon we were all laughing about it. The hike up took about three hours. We had to dodge camels and prayed for good footing. The climb was absolutely beautiful. The stars gleamed brightly in the sky and the milky way was a vague band across the sky. The surrounding mountains made impressive silhouettes, silently engulfing us. Finally, just as it was beginning to get light, we reached the stairs of repentance. A monk had wanted to repent for his sins, so he handcrafted stone steps and made a stairway to the top of the mount. They were roughly hewn and steep. Once I reached them, I knew that we were getting near the top. I wanted to go faster, as the sky was getting brighter and brighter. It was exhausting. My breath was heavy and ragged, my heart thumping wildly. It was as if I had been running a mile. People were scattered all along the stairway, sitting or standing, trying to gain their strength and catch their breathe. I always expected that the next bend would take me to the top, but they didn’t. The sky began to display ribbons of color, soft and rich. I had reached the end of the stairs. Sitting down on a ridge, I watched the sky glow brighter. When I regained more energy, I made the final, short ascent to the small church that sits at the very top. People from all over the world were congregated there. I drifted through the crowd, Spanish, Romanian, Korean, and Arabic words swirling around me. I made my way to a stone wall, joining other waiting people. A huge, orange sphere emerged from the distant horizon. As it gained height, it acquired three layers of color, a rich orange on top, a bright orange in the middle, and a hot yellow on the bottom. People were singing hymns, praying, or silently watching in wonder as the sun washed the world anew. After a time, people began to disperse and begin the long descent back down. Walking down, I could see the steps clearly. I could not believe that I had managed to scale them in the dark. I rejoined my group at a predesignated meeting site partially down the mountain and we finished the descent together. The climb down hurt my knees, partially because one was bruised from when I fell, but mainly because it was so steps were so steep.

Church on Mt.Sinai

Sunrise on Mt.Sinai

Welcoming the Sun

Elijah's Basin

The final part of our Mt.Sinai trip entailed a visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery. I got to see a descendant of the burning bush inside her walls. As a joke, the monks had put a fire extinguisher nearby. My friend and I did not stay long since we were exhausted, so we went to find a place to wait for the bus. When the bus came at 10am, it had a bad wheel.That had to get fixed. Everyone was grumpy, but there was nothing we could do except try to sleep.

St. Catherine

Descendent of the Burning Bush

The next few days passed in a relaxed manner. One day I decided to do some shopping. Most of the shopkeepers are huge flirts. One of them was telling me that he had not smiled nor laughed for a week until I came along and that I had good blood/spirit. He preceded to ask me if I were single and liked Egyptian men…But apart from that topic, somehow we began discussing economics. The price of vegetables has skyrocketed. For example, tomatoes used to only be at most LE 7 ($1.23) for a kilo but within a short period of time they went all the way up to LE 12 ($2.11) for a kilo, almost double. This is hurting the average Egyptian greatly as their meager budgets cannot handle these high prices. According to prime minister Ahmed Nazif, the government will be “adopting policies and procedures designed to protect low-income families from the current bout of inflation.” Keeping food prices down is very important for Egypt’s stability. In April 2008, there were riots in the streets over high food prices, resulting in violent clashes between the government and the people. Life is very tough for people here. “The official minimum wage per month of LE35 ($6.25) hasn’t changed since 1984…and 40 per cent of Egypt’s population lives well below the international poverty line, according to recent statistics by the Egyptian Investment Authority (EIA).” What I can make in less than an hour in the States, an Egyptian needs to put in a month. In Dahab I would spend LE 35 on single meal…how is it possible to feed a family for a month with that? As if that is not bad enough, according to one of my professors, right when people get hired, they are often made to sign a paper that will release them work. Thus, their employer can date it and sign it whenever they want. Many do not have job security because of this. Also many work in the informal sector, which is not stable as well.

Since Dahab is a tourist town, everyone is pretty well off, however, the Bedouins were a reminder of the wealth gap. One night I went on a camel ride up the side of a nearby mountain. A young Bedouin boy, perhaps seven years old, was leading my friend’s camel. He was barefoot for the entire three hours of our journey over sand, rocks, stones, and streets. I asked him is he was a student and he said no. He will probably grow up leading tourists on camel trips around the area like his father. There is nothing wrong with leading a Bedouin lifestyle and leading tourists, but they better be paid a fair wage for their work and given the opportunity to pursue their ideal lifestyle.

Camel Ride

Returning to Cairo and to my normal life, whatever that means, was difficult. Our bus back was late by three hours so we did not arrive to the dorms until four in the morning. I had to wake up two and a half hours later to get ready for school, break out of my vacation mentality, and readjust to the hectic Cairo life.

Ma’a Salaama!