Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hefla ‘eid melaad!حفلة عيد ميلاد

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

I recently went to a birthday party (حفلة عيد ميلاد) for one of my Egyptian friends here. Her party took place on a small  felucca on the Nile. It was really fun and I got to meet a lot of new people.  I was really glad that everything went well since things were looking a bit ominous before hand. On the taxi ride to the dock, we were engulfed in a brown haze and strong winds. Apparently a dust storm had decided to join us. It was the first one that I have seen and I was quite mesmerized by it. The cities lights were  glowing mysteriously and an edge of anticipation hung in the air.

Unfortunately, my enchantment began to ebb soon after we arrived at the river.  Sand flew into our eyes, stinging sharply as we waited for other guests to join us. We stood around squinting and rubbing our eyes, hoping the storm would die down soon.  Luckily things cleared up by the time we embarked the felucca. It was a small boat, entirely exposed to the elements with cushioned seats lining the sides and a table in the center adorned with syrupy sweet Egyptian treats. Neon lights stretched above us, washing us in a brightly colored glow. Music began to start soon after we left the shore. The first song was “Gasolina”, a raggaeton song in Spanish. Who would have thought? There were several other Spanish songs, but the majority were in Arabic. For the next hour or so we sat and talked, danced to a wide array of music, gazed at city lights, and ate.  The Egyptians sang many songs to clapping and table tapping. These were not commercial songs, but folk or childhood songs that everyone knew. Since they were all in Arabic I could not understand or sing along, but just to clapping along with them and listening was fun. Inshallah, some day I will learn get to learn these songs. I asked about the meanings of some. Some are nonsense, others are about people, and there are even ones about cities. I was told that each city in Egypt has its own song. Since the people present were from all over Egypt songs about their hometowns were sung. Each city has its own accent so when they sang a song from a different city they tried to mimic its accent. At the end of the ride it was time to pay for the boat. There was a bit of disagreement since the guy that arranged the boat ride was German and so was given a foreigners’ price. However, since there were only three of us foreigners there and many more Egyptians, the Egyptians were upset over the cost and felt that we were being ripped off. Even though it was only a matter of about ten U.S. dollars, it was the principle that mattered to them. Somehow everything was straightened out and we set out in good spirits. It was then time to head back to the dorms. Half of us wanted to walk and the other half wanted a taxi, so we split up. I decided to walk back. The forty minute walk back flew by since I was engaged in a really interesting conversation with another girl for the entire trip journey. We discussed almost every topic, touching on religion, school, politics, and society. Sometimes it is hard to believe that I am here, experiencing so many new things and meeting so many new people with their own stories and perspectives that I can learn from.

!مساء الخير

Side note: Thanks to Arabic being written from right to left, the “!” in the title works for both the words in the Roman script and the Arabic ones!

Ein Sokhna and St. Antony

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Last  weekend I went on a weekend trip with some other students to Ein Sokhna and St. Antony by the Red Sea. It was wonderful and relaxing after an exhausting week.

First, we went to St. Antony which is the oldest active monastery in the world. It is located in the middle of nowhere by a short dusty mountain. We drove for at least 30 minutes without seeing another building or sign of life. There was only brown sand. A few minutes after arrival, we got a tour from one of the monks. I was quite amused by the fact that he seemed very stylish in his sunglasses. He told us that the monastery was built like a fortress because it had to defend itself from Bedouin attacks throughout the ages.  It is a self-sustaining community with gardens, a mill, a spring, and other life necessities. Our guide showed us their spring and sole source of water.  We were told that it was a miracle. No one knows its origin. Scientist would claim that it comes from the mountain top from melted snow or collected rainwater, however, there is neither snow on the mountain top nor does it rain here in any significant quantity. I got to drink some of this miraculous water. It was not bad, but I could not really get a good taste.  My tasting abilities were hampered because just minutes before I tried some of their bread and the its flavor stayed in my mouth. The bread was moist and yummy. What I loved the most about the monastery was the painting in the churches. I really like the Coptic artistic style, which is simple, beautiful, and clean.

St. Antony's Monastery

Faucet providing water from the spring.

Coptic painting on the archway of a church doorway.

After the monastery we headed off to Ein Sokhna, which is a resort town off the Red Sea. On the way there, we passed a GIANT wind farm. The turbines were laid out for many, many kilometers. I think it is the Zafarana Wind Farm, which stretches for more than 250 km. It was very impressive and very important for Egypt’s future and development. I shall discuss energy and the likes in another post.

A small portion of a giant wind farm.

The hotel we stayed at in Ein Sokhna was very nice. It had three pools, spacious rooms, and a private beach. When we arrived, the tide was out so we could walk for about 3 minutes straight into the water and it would not be deeper than our knees. People saw starfish, sand dollars, crabs and fish through the clear, blue water. I did not make it out that far though and just saw a dead crab and a decomposing fish… I went swimming in it the next day when the tide was in. It is so salty that I could float on my back without moving my arms or legs.

Our hotel was chosen because its private beach would allow us to wear our liberal and scandalous Western style swimsuits. Regardless, I still felt kind of strange, for there were many conservative women in attendance. One thing that surprised me the most was the number of niqabee women there. The niqab is the clothing that women wear that cover up their entire body and face with only their eyes uncovered. There were not many people at the hotel to begin with, so seeing at least five women wearing the niqab was a bit shocking at first. I doubt that they went swimming, however, some less conservative Muslim women did. They wore black long sleeved, long legged swim suits, normally with a colorful western swimsuit layered on top.  The men wore a typical Western-style swimming shorts.

When I came back to the dorms later that evening I felt really relaxed and glad I was able to get away from the city for a bit.

View from my hotel room.

Sunset at Ein Sokhna.

!مع السلامة

Do You Remember Me?

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Today when I went to a rooftop cafe at one of the hotels in Zamalek, an Egyptian girl came up to me warmly exclaiming, “Hey! Do you remember me?” After a second I recognized her; she was the Egyptian girl that I had met in the Chicago airport on the way here. We had spent hours in JFK together since our flight was delayed. I was surprised to see her again. We greeted each other with the double cheek kiss. After chatting for a bit, she made sure I had her number and made me promise to call her sometime to hang out before she went back to her table. It is amazing how friendly and social the people are over here. The physical greetings that they use reinforce this sense of welcome and/or camaraderie.

Egyptians meet and greet people differently than Americans. When I first meet someone, they extend their hand to me and we shake. However, this shake does not involve a firm grip, but rather a limp hand. This felt very weird to me the first few times and I had to loosen my hold on their hand. This handshake seems kind of impersonal and uninterested. I’m not sure why they do it like this. I prefer the second encounter with that person, which is much warmer. The next time I see someone one of two things normally occurs. If I’m meeting with a female, we will usually do a cheek touch/kiss to both cheeks. This is very warm and welcoming. If I’m meeting with a male or sometimes a female then we will slap our hands together, like a casual, non-celebratory high five. I like this best since it’s fun and it feels like we’re buddies on some sort of team.

I think these greetings are some things that I will miss when I return to the states since they give off such a feeling of closeness and acceptance, even when I do not know people well.

The Signs are Everywhere

Friday, September 17th, 2010

One of the first things that surprised me when I arrived to Egypt was the large amount of stores, advertisements, and labels that were in English, or even better, English words spelled in the Arabic script. For example there is a clothing store in Zamalek called “For You” with the name in both English and in the Arabic script. It looks like ” فور يو”, but is pronounced only slightly different than the English as “Foor You”. I prefer the shops that have both English and Arabic names that are slightly different since they are more intriguing. There is a store labled as”Electric Shop” in English but the Arabic is “بيت النور”. This literally translates into “House of the Light”.

Along the expressways and sidewalks, there are ads for razors, clothes, food, appliances, and more all  in English.

As I would read these English signs, I would always wonder why they would name and advertise themselves in English. Given the low literacy rate in Egypt and that only the wealthy know English well, the advertisers are obviously targeting a narrow and well-off demographic. This did not seem like such a good idea to me at first, because they are excluding a whole bunch of potential consumers. However, now that I think of it more, it makes sense. English gives the brand or company more prestige, which means that it would probably be more expensive to begin. Only people that are wealthy enough to know English would be able to afford the product. In addition, the people that cannot understand English can still recognize the product and  buy the product in the store if they so desire. They may not be able to understand the packaging, but if it is something simple, everyday object they do not really need read anything to begin with.

Yesterday in my Third World Development class, we discussed this issue for a few minutes. The professor confirmed by beliefs that the companies are trying to attract customers that know English. However, there is a slight contradiction to this. One of my Egyptian classmates told us that when she went to buy an album yesterday for a popular Egyptian singer, all of the album work was all in English and when it did use Arabic words, they were transliterated into the Roman script. She was very shocked at this since the people most likely to buy and listen to the album are Arabic and probably do not know English. This is really unfortunate because a large number of the singers fans will be unable to appreciate their favorite music. We also got around to talking about the significance of the use of English and how it reinforces a belief that the native Egyptian/Arabic culture is somehow inferior to American/English culture. However, one thing that Egyptians are proud of is that they have never adopted the language of any colonizers, like the Ottoman Turks, French, and British, but have stuck with Arabic. At one point in Tahrir Square there were many business that had French signs. There were a groups of conservative Egyptians that saw this language as a threat to their culture and oppressive so they burned numerous French-named shops, whether or not they were owned by French or other Arabs. I was shocked when I heard this, though I shouldn’t have been. Language is tightly intertwined with identity.It can be used as a tool of oppression or empowerment, manipulating people’s perceptions of their self-worth.

The Egyptians loyalty to their language differentiates them from places like Algeria and Morocco where French is very prevalent and some people only speak it to put on airs. I have noticed that when possible, Egyptians will speak Arabic. All the students that I have met here so far speak English wonderfully and many have an extensive and complex vocabulary. Even though they can easily hold conversations in English, they will speak in Arabic amongst themselves. I found this a bit surprising since I will often attempt to speak Spanish with my Spanish-speaking friends for fun or practice.

However, when Egyptians know English and are speaking to Americans they speak English. This is frustrating for me and others trying to develop Arabic language skills. One of my American friends here was complaining to her Egyptian cousin about this. She told him that whenever she tries to speak in Arabic to people here they respond to her in English even when she could understand the Arabic reply. He told her that even if people know you can understand Arabic, they will want to speak with you in English in order to show off their  knowledge and, more importantly, to boost their status in our eyes.

The use and perception of English is mixed. English is a symbol of prestige, to be desired, but at the same time this prestige results in the diminished worth of Arabic. While people use English to show-off, advertise prestigious goods, or seek better economic opportunities, when it comes to friends, family, and daily life Arabic is the language to use.

Insights into New Campus

Friday, September 17th, 2010

In response to a comment about the inspiration for the AUC’s campus, comparing AUC’s new campus to the city of Cairo, as well as analyzing UMW in a similar fashion, I bring you the following.

AUC Campus Inspiration

The new campus reflects a modern, artistic twist on traditional Islamic and Arabic designs. I think that the architects wanted to use traditional Arabic features in order to celebrate their artistic and cultural heritage. At the same time, all the buildings are very extravagant and modern, showing how Egyptians can be prosperous in the present without needing to give up their pride in the past.

The AUC new campus is unlike the rest of Cairo. Traditional features, which were once common in old medinas (cities) are rarely found in the Cairene neighborhoods outside of mosques, villas, or fancy Egyptian restaurants. It is rare to find a neighborhood that has arabesque inspired buildings with courtyard, arches, and balconies displaying intricate geometrical designs. Normal buildings are plain concrete blocks that care more about housing a large amount of people in an area than aesthetics. However, it is a shame that traditional features have been abandoned since not only were they beautiful, but were well suited to the desert environment. Apparently, many of the Arabic features displayed on campus serve practical purposes of keeping the students cool despite the hot desert sun. According to the architect of the AUC library, Stephen Johnson,”Traditional Arabic mashrabiya [wooden window screens]for privacy and sun-protection, malkafs [wind catchers] on roofs to capture prevailing winds and circulate fresh air into buildings, and shukshaykhas [vented domes] to remove hot air appeared in modern expression at the new campus, too”. Very clever. Also, all the walls are stone at least three feet thick, keeping the buildings insulated and helping the university save energy on AC.

Mashrabiya

There are older parts of Cairo that have a similar layout to New Campus. The seemingly haphazard floor plans for the academic buildings resemble to older areas of Cairo. For example, Khan al-Khalili ( a souq or marketplace in Islamic Cairo), is made up of  a tangle of alleys dotted with courtyards. Getting lost is quite easy.  Similarly, New Campus is not populated by buildings that are single, self-contained blocks with one straight corridor running down its length, but instead buildings are a compilation of several courtyard conjoined with one another, sometimes at weird angles.

However, this layout is quite different than modern Cairo. Cairo is a massive city and all the areas that I know, Zamalek and Downtown, display a lot of European influence. Zamalek is home to many European-style palaces alongside plain apartment/business buildings. Meanwhile, downtown Cairo has a stronger European flair. It  has widened boulevards and streets that were constructed in the late 19th century at the request of Ismail the Magnificent, who wanted the area to resemble Europe, Paris in particular.The buildings themselves look as though they have been transplanted from France ages ago and have been given some time to weather. There are no buildings on new campus that have even the slightest hint of Parisian flair to them. In addition, the Parisian influence has resulted in the use of roundabouts in the downtown.

European Influence Downtown

I think a mixture of roundabouts and a natural growth of the city from its old medina layout has affected the overall street layout of the city. Cairo has some orderly grid-like sections, but they tend to spiral out from various points like spider webs. American cities in comparison are much to simple. They follow a boring, though practical, grid-like framework. If you compare the street maps of Cairo with that of Fredericksburg (Below), you can see what I’m talking about.

Cairo, Egypt

Fredericksburg, VA

UMW’s campus reflects this orderly American layout. Most of the buildings are simple rectangles with a corridor running down its length. The only variations to this are the rotundas inside of Trinkle and Jepson, but the hall ways of these buildings follow the same idea of the rest of the buildings. The buildings on UMW’s campus are Jeffersonian. UMW is similar to AUC in that its architecture reflects its heritage. Jefferson was a famous Virginian and he represents a commitment to higher learning and knowledge. AUC’s buildings also reflect a commitment to higher learning. For example, “Near the entrance to the campus, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. The dome symbolizes the height of intellectual and mathematical achievement in Islamic civilization.”  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story…). UMW’s buildings are also have a similar architectural style to the older buildings in Fredericksburg that go back to the days of the Revolutionary War with red-bricks and front porches.

UMW’s buildings are also have a similar architectural style to the older buildings in Fredericksburg that go back to the days of the Revolutionary War with red-bricks and front porches.

New Job

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Hey all!

I´m back to tell (some) about my new job.

So, after much renewed confusion (like you would not believe), I finally got confirmation that I was working at the school (Yet, they still were telling me different schools. aka – wednesday of the first two week training block, they told me one thing, confirmed it friday, and the next tuesday someone asked me why i hadn´t shown up at the other school. Lol).

It all got sorted out. So, I am teaching First Basic (kindergarten) at ISM: International Academy( http://www.ism.edu.ec/). We first had two weeks of ¨planning¨, which was actually two weeks of mostly seminars and a little planning. Most of the  seminars were interesting and informative. Problem was: they were all in Spanish. Which is fine, usually, onlynot when they´re talking at the speed of light on a microphone to over a hundred people. Then, it gets very hard to understand.

Also, bureaucracy continued. In ways I don´t want to describe on a public blog when I´m still working (for example, though, received my list of students the friday before classes started, the day before I meet the parents, and at 2pm (I theoretically leave at 2:30).

Also, this school is SUPER religious. I knew it would be religious but OMG. I have never been so afraid to not be caught praying correctly in my life. I think if I get fired for anything, it will be because someone discovers I´m not religious. Which is a problem, because I have to teach bible for a minimum of 15-30 minutes every day. Which is hard, because I simply don´t believe in it. So, religiously I´m feeling a little oppressed. I mean really, to quote – ¨we aren´t telling anyone that they have to be Catholic. Or even Christian, just that they have to have God in their heart. And if they don´t. they can´t really work here.¨I just about broke out into terrified tears. It´s very repressive. Normally, I have no problem not talking about religion (because I don´t), but constantly having prayers and services and devotionals and being forced to teach religion makes me constantly very nervous about doing the wrong thing.

Luckily, the people are awesome. In addition to the foreign teachers, most of the Equatorian teachers I´ve met are absolutely wonderful. They´re so kind and helpful – especially the english teachers teaching first basic with me. I have no kinder training so I´m feeling very over my head, but they´re extremely helpful and nice all the time. I´m learning a lot. And, the students overall have been great so far (we´ve had one week with them of adaptation). A few problems, like my master escape artist who keeps somehow escaping the preschool area to wander the rest of the school in search of his sister, but I´m learning to deal with them. Though, I do feel over my head. Especially with these two weeks of adaptation (we´ve done one, the second one starts tomorrow). It´s  just kind of a free for all two weeks to get the kids used to being at school. It´s unstructured, so I´m running out of ideas of what to do with them to keep them entertained (I need to get my hands on a CD player and music, or chaos is going to ensue without singing or dancing). So, any idea of how to entertain 21 five year olds would be most appreciated.

Also, the school is really nice. It is in the middle of No Where in Calderon. Not the best place around it. It is so much in no where, it´s 40 minutes away by bus, and down a dirt road. Most roads in Ecuador are paved. The school is still adding a wing, so there´s dust, but otherwise it´s nice. It has a pool, soccer field, computer labs (theoretically with internet), a high tech admin building, fingerprint scanners for teachers, nice classrooms, and a cafeteria where they make food fresh every day. Seriously, lunch is comida tipica and the best school food i´ve ever tasted. It puts Seaco´s best nights to absolute shame. Of course, they use fresh ingredients and cook it right there, so it´s automatically better. It´s great. Also, my classroom is very nice compared with what I´d been told to expect. I have desks, chairs, supply cabinet, a tv and dvd player (unfortunately, their cords don´t reach the outlet, I´m still working on trying to get an extension cord). I´m just missing the CD player, but hopefully I´ll get that Monday. Granted, when I got the room, it was so dirty, it took me a day and a half just to clean it, and 3 and a half extra long (till 4/5) to decorate it. But cleaned up, it´´s really nice.

So, overall, I´m doing well. Extremely non stop busy and run down, but well. I´m surprised how much I am enjoying working with the youngins. Luckily, bureaucracy has seemed to smooth out (I finally got my schedule…a week into classes – no. joke.) ALso, it´s Ecuador, so teachers are much more relaxed and can be much more affectionate with students. Which really helps with them. Now, if only my facturas would be finished so I can hopefully get paid for the days in August…..

Wish me luck! I´ll have more stories next time.  :)

And fam, please give me another week before calling. I´m wiped. With soooo much to do.

Dear Americans,

Friday, September 10th, 2010

I’m sure all of you have heard about the Pastor from Florida, Terry Jones, who is planning on burning copies of the Qur’an. I hear that it is all over the news in the States and it is in the news here as well. Wednesday in class, two professors brought it up. One of them was warning us to stay away from places like Al-Azhar Mosque on the 11th since that is a large gathering place and a site where demonstrations in Cairo are most likely to occur. It will be extra busy anyways since the 11th is the second day of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims are celebrating the end of Ramadan with their family and friends and will be frequenting mosques in larger numbers than usual.

I am personally not worried for my safety, since Egypt is a relatively stable country, but I find it ridiculous that some small church in Florida has the potential to put not only my well-being and safety at risk, but those of everyone else living, studying, or traveling abroad in places where a few could use this instance as an excuse to violently express their beliefs. Not once have I felt ill at ease for being an American here, though I will avoid areas that may be considered “unsafe” since I have no way to tell what people’s reaction here will be if the Qur’an burning goes through. I do expect people to feel sadness and anger. This is entirely understandable and I am united with them in these two emotions as well as frustration.

I am tired of America failing to live up to its ideal and values. Even though I am glad that President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and numerous other people from the government, religious organizations, students, and non-profits have all condemned the actions the Florida church is about to take, there are still too many people that believe the burning of a holy book is just act and in the demonization of Muslims. Pastor Jones justified his plan to the AP by saying, “How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?”… “Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s to time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior.”

How does the burning of the Qur’an equate to “standing up” against radical Islam? It just represents a hatred and misunderstanding of the contents of the Qur’an and what it calls its followers to do. The Qur’an is not a symbol of radical Islam, but a holy book used by 1,571,198,000 people around the world (22.9% of the world population). By focusing his attack on the Qur’an and not on a symbol that is unique to radicals, he is alienating a huge community of the world that just wants to live in peace. If he really wanted to counter radical Islam, then the Pastor should do some research into why radical Islam has taken hold and how the Qur’an has been crudely twisted to support actions of terror and destruction by leaders discontented with the status quo. They have used religion to justify and fortify their ideological beliefs and political agendas. One of the best ways to confront radical Islam is to show support and compassion to the average Muslim and provide Muslim communities with the opportunities and resources necessary to create environments that do not inspire individuals to turn to extremism to find the solutions to their problems.

Times are changing in the U.S. and the world. The economy has been sluggish, Americans are worried about their decline in global power, and they are fearful that in a few decades the America they grew up with and love will have an entirely different face. These current times are not unique, as our history tells us. I was always surprised as a child when I learned about all the difficulties African American faced when fighting for their rights in the 60s, the discrimination that the Japanese faced and their internment during World War Two, and all the other civil rights movements that minorities had to trudge through in order to be considered “non-threatening” and allocated the respect they deserve as U.S. citizens. All these movements seemed needlessly painful, full of fear and hate. While I do not believe that Muslim Americans face nearly the same degree of discrimination as former minority groups and are fortunate in having the backing of the government, it is shameful that they should be confronting any sort of animosity from their fellow citizens. Situations regarding Muslims are blown entirely out of proportion, they are looked at suspiciously in the airports, and people wonder how the hijab can signify anything other than the restriction of women’s rights.

I hope that sooner rather than later we will be able to embrace diversity within and without our borders, not just idealize them. Speak up, take action, and make American ideals a reality.

Ma’a Salaam.

Peace.

AUC Campus

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Here are some pictures of AUC Campus. When I am there, I feel as though I am walking in an art museum. All the buildings are beautiful and unique.

AUC Library

(dis)Orientation Week

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Last week was Orientation Week at AUC, however, it was one of the most confusing experiences that I have had here so far.

When I first arrived to campus, I was struck by it’s sheer size. While it is probably about the same size as my home university, it seems much larger since it is literally solid stone with no grassy areas and is composed of immense buildings flowing into one another.

After my initial moments of being overwhelmed by its appearance, I set off to accomplish various tasks in buildings scattered throughout campus. This was very difficult. To begin with, most buildings are not labeled very clearly and if they do happen to have a name carved into it’s side it is not the name that people call it. For example, “Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Hall” is called “HUSS” and will be printed in the orientation packet as this. This makes it impossible to locate most buildings on the campus maps. When a building is found on the map, that is when the real thinking begins. Why? Because the maps are all backwards. I found that out the hard way.

I was warned that the academic buildings are also confusing, so a fellow student and I set out find our classrooms. I am so glad that we did. While the classrooms are numbered, I question the distribution of those numbers. For the most part they follow numerical order, yet I have stumbled across a hall with room 1079 wedged between rooms 1009 and 1005.  In addition, one of my classrooms was not to be found. We went into a courtyard with all the rooms that were in the 60′s yet there was no 66. We looked at a map next, but the room wasn’t on it! My room did not exist. We asked an orientation leader and even he could not find it. Finally, a group of girls sighted it and called us over to a corridor that could only be accessed from outside of the building.

On top of the physical confusion created by the campus layout, there is a different administrative style to deal with. For example,  I signed up for a class registration appointment and when I arrived there I saw that signing up for an appointment in advance was useless. There was another sign-up sheet in the room on which the real schedule was run. Unfortunately, no one notified me or other students of this when we first arrived. We sat around, waiting for our names to be called before we realized the insignificance of our appointment cards.

However, we were lucky that there were actually people there. Earlier, another student was sent to discuss her Survival Arabic course enrollment in a different building, but no one was in the room or even the entire building for that matter. We discussed this absence with some orientation leaders and they blamed it on Ramadan. Everything here slows down because of Ramadan and its expected that people will be absent or running on a different schedule. We are constantly told to wait to do things until after the Eid (the final day of Ramadan). It’s very frustrating since we are told to get X,Y, and Z done and once we have finally figured out how to get there, we are told to come back later.

The first day was the most frustrating. As the week went on, I just accepted that this is how things would be. I just have to adjust myself to a slower sense of time and go with the flow.

Classes begin tomorrow. I am really excited since all my courses are interesting and I will get to meet more Egyptian students. I heard that both the bus schedule and the class times have been changed to accommodate Ramadan. Some people got an e-mail explaining this, others like myself, have not. I’ll figure it out on way or another.

Rules of the Road

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Roads in Egypt can be a mess. For those planning to drive in Egypt, here are some rules to follow. (1) If there is an opening, take it. (2) If you’re merging or trying to dodge around the car in front of you, honk. Honking is just a friendly reminder that you exist and expect to be given room. (3) Disregard the dashed white lines. A two lane road is really a three lane road, with an optional fourth lane that can be conjured at will. (4) Be prepared to brake, pedestrians can materialize from anywhere. And (5) Relax, no one else is concerned, so why should you be?

As we were told by a tour guide, “If you can drive in Egypt, you can drive anywhere in the world. Egyptians should be given an international driver’s license”. I’ve been thinking that perhaps they should also consider giving out pedestrian licenses; it takes just as much skill and experience as driving. While Egyptian pedestrians will nonchalantly enter the stream of traffic and casually cross the street in front of speeding cars, American’s have less faith that they’ll make it to the other side unscathed. Yesterday as I was waiting with a fellow student for an opening to cross a main street, at least three Egyptians crossed when I wouldn’t even have dared to sprint. When we did cross we were definitely an amusing sight with our legs pumping, hair flying, and eyes wide.  We couldn’t help but laugh in relief as we reached the opposite curb.

While being a pedestrian can be frightful, being a passenger is not always better. A few nights ago AUC students went on a relaxing felluca ride on the Nile. As we were taking a van back to the dorms, the vehicle suddenly started swerving rapidly in the middle of traffic. Moments later, I saw the driver’s door swing open. Unfazed, he leaned out, grabbed hold of it, and slammed it shut. A shocked silence fell over the bus, quickly interrupted by incredulous laughter. The girl seated next to the driver exclaimed, “I thought he was going to fall out! He doesn’t even have a seat belt on!”

Thankfully, situations like the ones I just illustrated do not happen all the time. The Zamalek neighborhood where I live is generally populated by one lane streets (since parked cars constrict their width), residential buildings, shops, and consulates/embassies. This means that the traffic is minimal for the most part, though it still seems slightly reckless to my Western senses. I have yet to get a good idea of the rest of Cairo’s traffic, but I have heard it is worse. Also, since it is Ramadan things are definitely toned down a few notches.

But why is traffic normally so crazy? It stems primarily from the lack of respect towards traffic laws. Road conditions, inadequate public transit, a massive population,  and faulty vehicles are also to blame. The Egyptian government is making plans towards alleviating its traffic problem.  It is supporting a project with Agence Française de Développement to “Promote an efficient, integrated, multimodal, tiered mass transport system.” Another plan is to make it’s downtown a pedestrian only zone, with the hope that with its success other areas of Cairo will follow its lead and rely less on cars and turn towards public transport or walking to get around. Hopefully Egypt can successfully implement a sustainable and efficient way to transport their large population. Until then, I’ll just have to be cautious.