Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Final Day of Teaching

July 22, 2008

Today was my last day of teaching; the time definitely flew by. The class was called “project day” which basically translates into “use up everything Miss Julie brought with her.” We started with decorating picture frames filled with a picture of the class. These kid have a major obsession with those foam shapes with adhesive backs. Man, those frames were the gaudiest things ever, but they had a good time making them.

I also had sparkly pom poms and wiggly eyes, both of which were very foreign concepts to them. I figured the eyes seemed a little odd so I went into pretty extensive detail, drawing an example face on the board and putting the eyes where they belong and even going so far as to squinting them into my own eye sockets. You’d think they’d have figured it out just fine from those examples but at least 10 of the 16 kids had wiggly eyes randomly dispersed across their project. Sometimes it’s amazing the things that they can’t deal with. They’re such smart kids, but every so often they hit a brick wall and just can’t seem to get past it. They’ll understand complex games and American-specific vocabulary, but they can’t figure out what to do with wiggly eyes. I guess I went on and on there, but it’s really a strange situation.

Then we made the little American people that my mom devised and sent to me. Again, they thought these were the coolest things ever. They loved the pipe cleaners that we used to form the bodies and appreciated the flag fabric we used for the dresses even if all of the little people ended up being girls (I could not deal with forming pants and shirts for the boys, so they were all given the only option of making girls).

Moving on; I’ve neglected this blog lately, so I’ll rewind to some of the things I skipped over.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that the whole “quiet down” thing just wasn’t quite cutting it because most of the time noise was not the only problem. These kids are incredibly mobile; they stand up and walk up to me for everything. Often, they’ll be walking toward me while simultaneously raising their hand. It’s not that they don’t understand the phenomenon of raising hands, they just feel that their problem is much more urgent and that the inefficiency of solving this problem on my own time just won’t do. Anyway, I decided a good solution to this would be to teach them “chill out.” Lame, yes, but you’d be amazed how well this worked. I will admit, though, that I altered the definition a little bit. 

Chill out: to be sitting, quietly, and NOT shouting “Miss Julie! Miss Julie!”; NOT walking around the room

            I love this phrase now. Even the kids started using it when one of their fellow students was meandering about the room and yelling my name. Their accents often sounded more like “Chill ow-et” which was even more endearing.

Another funny moment was during my lesson of body parts. It seemed juvenile and I assumed they wouldn’t be crazy about it, but by far it was their favorite lesson of all. We played Simon Says (big hit) and cut out heads, bodies, and legs, reassembled them into amusing people with awkwardly shaped parts, and then labeled them. I also had them cut out big heads from the magazines I brought with me and label those as well. When I asked them what an eyebrow was called I got more than one answer of “eye hair,” which made me chuckle. 

I made treat bags for them today with a little note, some candy, and that sort of thing; they were very excited about the American flag bags that I put them in. I couldn’t ask for a more patriotic class, and they’re not even Americans. I love it that they love the flag and the Statue of Liberty. I made them cds with American music on them as well, which perplexed them. I’m not sure if they just hadn’t seen a burned cd before? But that doesn’t make any sense because in Egypt pirating is a major problem. Who knows but hopefully they eventually figure it out. I even bought some Hannah Montana for them because they love her so much. 

It was a kind of sad day, which was only to be expected. I'm proud of what we've all accomplished together. True, they may not be able to talk about philosophy in English (not yet at least) but they know what an eyebrow is and they can say "Pennsylvania" and "The Statue of Liberty." Again, it's all about the small victories.

So, now, what to do with myself with 5 more days in Cairo? I’m trying to keep myself busy without spending money (this is difficult). Yesterday we went back to Khan el Khaleli and stocked up on the last of touristy items. We definitely got our fill of the harassment dished out by shop owners. We usually go to the side that Cairenes go to, but this time after we stopped by our favorite scarf shop there, we headed over to the tourist side (shudder). It’s a necessary experience to really feel like you’ve seen Cairo, I guess, but this side of the market is so incredibly overwhelming that it’s almost unpleasant. “Give me one hour I will make happy forever.” “Everything in shop is free!” “Oh beautiful, I have everything you want.” I make it sound better than it was. 

We ended up with a major creeper in tow for the first time and we could NOT shake him for the longest time. The crowd is so dense that it’s hard to get away from someone. This guy was the worst person I’ve come in contact with in Cairo--that I can say with confidence. He didn’t touch us, but made continual references to things that I’d rather not hear from a stranger who is following me in a market. It got so bad that I actually elbowed him to get him away and when that didn’t deter him I began cutting him off as much as I could. Eventually, after we stopped at a cart with a large man who seemed pretty nice, he left. It was an incredibly angering and upsetting moment for me. We were completely unable to do anything about this guy and no one was paying enough attention to help us. We figured it out, though, and now we know what to do if that happens again. 

I was just very surprised that he just wouldn’t leave us alone. It takes a lot for me to resort to a physical action, so you have to realize just how upset and uncomfortable with the situation I was.

Anyway, we ended up with a lot of great tourist stuff in the end of it all.

I’m preparing to make my way to Mt. Sinai in a few days and am very excited to see another part of Moses’ story. Christine, one of the volunteers from Alexandria, is going to come with me; I’m really looking forward to traveling with her! We plan to hike the mountain overnight and arrive the peak at sunrise. It promises to be an amazing experience. Then we’re heading back to Dahab (a smaller beach town) for snorkeling and a camel trek to a neighboring mountain. Then we’ll head to Jordan to see Petra and hopefully the Dead Sea. After a couple of days there we’re heading in our own directions—hers back to Cairo and mine to Israel where I’ll be staying with one of my great friends from school’s great friends. I love Orah (my friend from school and sorority) and she’s so wonderful to have asked her friend if I could stay with her.

I’ll feel much more comfortable knowing that I have a connection in Israel rather than just showing up alone. Although, I feel like Egypt is more dangerous than Israel. I could be wrong about that, but Israel and the US share more of a cultural and physical exchange than that with Egypt.

Anyway, it’s hard to believe that my time here is almost over. I’m not big on major reflections and would much rather rely on the recitation of events to reflect, but I realize that this trip has changed a lot for me. As I said once before, I think I really have chosen a career path that best suits me, although I’m not sure if a life abroad is in my future. I’ve learned that I love this culture and that the Middle East, however quirky it may seem at times to this particular American, is a new interest for me. I often had a hard time finding a connection to this place--a place that most of my classmates in the Elliott School called an obsession--but I now realize that I share (some) of the same interest. It only took an opportunity for me to interact with the people here to figure out that I can connect to this culture; the people here have made all the difference for me.

To end with a lighter note, there’s a little grocery store down the street that I’m pretty sure that I’ve talked about before. Anyway, a set of twins (grown men) an older man and a few boys all work in this little convenience store of sorts. I go in there quite a bit because their water and pop are reasonably priced as are the grocery items like eggs etc. Anyway, every time I go in there one of the twins asks me—always—“Speak English?” to which I answer, “La, bess Arabee.” You would think that I cracked a dirty joke from hysterical laughter that results from that one line of, “No, only Arabic.” They’re so funny that they find something so small so amusing. They teach me little snippets of Arabic when I go in, usually just the things sitting around the counter, but it’s all a part of the banter in which Egyptians constantly take part—this back and forth joking manner. 

That’s one thing that I adore about this culture—the conversation style and that no one cares that my Arabic is minimal. As long as I attempt some Arabic, people are impressed, amazed even. It’s such a setting of encouragement. I now understand this supposed concept of “cultural exchange” which before I figured was a figment of the educational world to be used as a way to encourage students to study abroad. If you interact, though, you exchange. I had no idea people would be so receptive to my interests in learning Arabic and teaching English. I’m actually at a point of dreading going to Russia for study abroad; I know the Russians won’t appreciate my attempts at the language as much as Egyptians do.

Desert Trek

July 20, 2008

         So it's now Sunday and we just made it back last night from our trek into the desert. We woke up early on Friday morning, hopped in the Farek’s cab (he claims he was a little late because he almost didn’t wake up in time) and headed to the bus station for an 8am bus. As usual the police officers heading “security” decided to give the white girls more of a hassle than any other travelers but we eventually made our way past the xray machine and the guys posted at the entrance to the buses. This is such a normal thing now, watching all other travelers squeak by them with barely a glance in their direction while Christine, Sam, and I have to open our bags, show our passports, or tickets at least one more time than everyone else. This just proves the bizarre nature of the system here; if they think you’re cute they’ll check your information extensively. This may not be completely true, but more than once I’ve been the only one stopped in a line of passengers because they wanted to see my ticket again or check my bag just one more time. 

Anyway, we got on the bus, found our seats, and slowly began to realize that standing room only is apparently a commodity that warrents a ticket as well. They actually sell “seats” for people to stand and sit in the aisles. So, I rode with at least 2 Egyptian butts pretty close to me the entire 5 hour ride. It was pretty comical. 

I tried to sleep as much as possible but it was a Friday, so the bus driver was blaring the Friday prayer that most people take part in. Friday services, from what I understand, are very much like our Christian church services on Sunday and the US. It’s a time to get together and hear an inspiring message to get you through the rest of the week. However, rather than an hour or 2 service, this one lasted the entirety of the bus ride. Additionally, the man orating sounded like he was outraged the entire time he was speaking. It was almost like the holy-roller evangelists in the states. Needless to say it was not easy sleeping with this background noise.

Anyway, we reached Bahiraya, the oasis we were to begin our drive from, in about 5 hours (an hour longer than excpected) and pulled into the “Ahmed Safari Camp.” Catchy name, eh? We had lunch and packed our backpacks into the jeep that we’d be riding in. We started around 3 and managed to hit scenes in the black desert and white desert before we stopped around 7 to camp in a rock formation-strewn area. The rocks surrounding us were of all different shapes, made of the same beautiful white rock. The rock itself was almost chalky and broke off easily if you tried to wiggle a piece free.

When we stopped the driver jumped out and climbed to the top of the jeep and began chucking pieces of our campsite down. A colorful tent made with the typical multicolored fabric on one side and the tan canvas on the other. He laid down a big rug along the side of the jeep and propped up the tent (which was actually more like a wall) along side the jeep as well, with one corner jutting out from the front end of the jeep. The whole thing, I’m assuming, was only intended to keep the wind off of us. It was like a tent that had 2 and ¾ of the walls removed as well as the roof. 

The driver began dinner and Christine, Jake, and I busied ourselves with journaling, reading, or just sitting and enjoying the silence of the desert and the sunset. We watched the sun sink into the western sky and the biggest moon I’ve ever seen rise in the east. The moon was full and orange and one of the most striking things I’ve seen here. It was a perfectly timed moment, it looked as though the two were performing a kind of dance, taking cues from each other on entrances and exits. To make the moment even more picturesque, it was at this moment 4 little foxes showed up and began snooping around the site. They were looking for their dinner too; we were starving by that point.

We ate the best meal that we’d all had in our time in Egypt that night, prepared by our driver. We ate a rice dish with a t0mato sauce with potatoes poured over it and grilled chicken, all made right at the campsite. It was sooo good. We went to bed so early that night, under piles of camel hair blankets that still smelled of their previous owners, laying under the moon’s light that made the surrounding area appear like dusk. There weren’t many stars out because it was so light, but atht didn’t take away from the experience of sleeping in the middle of the desert. 

Right before we laid down, the driver, with his minimal English, warned us that the foxes would steal our shoes in the night if we didn’t put them in our bags. I barely believed it until we’d returned to Cario and met up with our Luxor friends who had done the same desert trip. They told us they had lost 5 shoes on a night similar to ours. Who knows why the little things want shoes, but I think it’s pretty hilarious that they steal them often. 

The next morning we got up and headed back in the direction that we began in. We passed all of the places we had stopped the day before, the rock formations and mountains, and eventually pulled off on a side path (it was hardly a road). We stopped at a large cement box with a pipe pouring clear water into the “pool.” This was the cold spring we’d been told we would visit. While it was not exactly what we’d expected, it was still refreshing to put our feet in. Christine and I refrained from changing into our bathing suits because there were a few onlookers around and we didn’t feel like bearing western values to the public as we’d done before. We instead hung our legs into the cool water and watched as Jake, our driver, and 2 of his buddies sat in the waist high water.

We ended up back at the base camp a full 3 and a half hours before our bus left for Cairo, so we ate lunch and then had the driver take us into the town to kill some time. We went into a lot of the little stores, most of which had only dates and olive oil (literally) and talked to some of the people who lived in the area. Egyptians are hilarious, I’ve definitely decided that. They’re just so happy when you really talk to them and especially when you joke with them. We videoed a pair of guys saying “Welcome to Bahiraya Oasis,” which took us a good ten minutes to explain to them what we wanted them to do. It killed a lot time and was just fun. 

We finally ended up on the bus and headed out with the expectation of a quieter ride. That was dumb. We encountered the same kind angry-sounding sermon all the way back to Cairo with the same number of butts in our personal spaces. I actually decided to use my ipod a little bit to drown some it out but the battery was running really low, all the way down to a tiny red bar. God intervened for my mental health, however, and the battery lasted the entire 4 hour trip! It was seriously a miracle.

Christine and I killed some time talking about what we plan to do when we get home. Her exact quote was, “I usually don’t think about what I’ll do when I get back anytime that I travel, but this trip I have it all figured out.  I’m going to take a long shower, eat some really good food, and then put something scandalous on and walk down the street, to which I will receive no degrading comments.” That definitely made me laugh.

We pulled into Cairo, hours later, and spotted Farek through the window. The guy is prompt, that’s for sure. We got back to the apartment and were greeted by Daniel and a full bowl of watermelon (he’s an expert watermelon cutter). It was a good trip.

Luxor update

July 17, 2008

So tonight I’m finally going to update about last weekend, as I’m preparing to embark on this weekend’s adventure.


On the 10th, Sam and I got into Farek (our “driver” if you will during our time here in Egypt) and headed off to the airport for a late flight. We figured that Farek would be as perky as he usually is (he was), so we prepared ourselves for a long string of conversations on the way to the airport. He’s hilarious when you really get him started. He kept talking about his mother saying, “Nooo noo, when did your skin get so dark?” Obviously Farek is very tan since he’s Egyptian. Anyway, I told him about how people in the US want to be tan and he just couldn’t deal with that piece of information. He was excited, though, at the prospect of being attractive to ladies in the states. Still, he, like myself, was surprised when he found out that people of another culture want the opposite of what they already have.


We sat at the airport for 3ish hours which was fine by me. It’s always the time that you don’t go that early that you forget your ticket or get stuck in security. We ended up sitting in a snack bar across from a seemingly American looking group of 4. It ended up that we sat behind them on the plane as well. As we were preparing to get off I made a casual comment to Sam, “I’ll bet we see these people everywhere.” Was that a self-fufiling prophecy if I ever predicted one. We ended up seeing them again at our hotel and finally introduced ourselves. We all figured that was the end of it, though, but it definitely wasn’t.


We checked into our hotel around 10 (? I think?) and settled ourselves as much as we could in our little room, with a door that never fully shut and locked, with 3 tiny beds and a mini tv. It was a nice hotel, though; it had a lot of character. We wandered our way back downstairs to attempt to find some juice in the surrounding area of Aswan. We met up with the same group again on the way down, so we headed out together getting better acquainted.


After juice we hit the hay, or rather got into bed and flipped on the tv to watch soap operas in Arabic. My shower before that had been interesting. The shower itself seemed a little suspicious so I took the nozzle thing and showered as best as I could on the tile outside of the tub. Fun, let me tell ya.


Our wake up call was at 3 am to begin the trek to Abu Simbel. This particular temple was built by Ramses II and is located about 2 hours south of Aswan. I guess that the territory is technically disputed over by both Egypt and Sudan so those who want to go see it have to join a police caravan to follow into the desert. Personally, I know if I was a robber (or whoever hangs out in the desert waiting for stupid tourists) I would love it if they traveled in a big line. That way I could just stop them all at once and save myself a lot of trouble. But I digress.


So, we get up at 3 and go down to the lobby for our boxed breakfasts consisting of a boiled egg and three small loaves of bread (that sounds almost biblical). Amidst our munching I decided to ask Sam about something odd I noticed when we first woke up. “No,” she said. “I didn’t get up in the night and cover us both up with more blankets.” WE went to sleep with one thin blanket and woke up with a thick wool one tucked in between the mattresses like hotels usually do. I know that I can’t sleep walk/make beds that well, so the only thing we could figure is that someone came into our room assuming we were cold during the 2 hours we actually slept that night…? We tried not to think about it too much.


Once we were off we met the entire group of people going to Abu Simbel. Our estimates for the number of people going were way off. Thanks to that one temple I officially hate tourists. Seriously, how many people want to get up at 3, trek for hours in a stuffy van, and then traipse around a temple in 100 degree weather? I apparently underestimated the average tourists’ williningness to suffer. So much for counting on my youth as leverage for getting pictures of sites with no other people in them.


After two hours we pilled into the parking lot and piled out. After angrily paying 80 pounds to get in (thanks GW card for not looking official enough) we met up with our tour guide (insane) and started walking. Now, some Egyptian tour guides or Egyptologists as they prefer to be called are really excellent. Most of them, however, describe what you are seeing, what you will see, or what you have seen. “Here, Ramses painted a picture of a big. It is very big. This is a big statue of Ramses because he thought he was pretty great” and so on. This guy was of the latter class. When someone asked him how far away Sudan was from the site he said, “I don’t know in kilometers but it’s a 12 hour donkey ride.” Later, we determined 12 hours on a donkey ends up being about 30 minutes in a car.


The temple itself was amazing. When the government built the High Dam to prevent the Nile from its yearly flood the temple was going to be engulfed in the lake that would result. Rather than let this happen, UNESCO took the project under its wing and disassembled the temple piece by piece and moved it to higher ground. That in itself is reason enough to go see it; the four statues are huge. It seems almost impossible that they cut each piece into movable blocks and then reassembled it higher up, piece by piece. Another interesting aspect about the temple is that the sun shines into its hallways only twice a year—on Ramses’ birthday and on the day he was crowned Pharaoh. When they moved the temple, however, the days only moved forward by one day. Now that takes some serious planning.


We saw our new friends at the temple as well as we met some nice people visiting from Texas. It’s pretty cool how many people you meet when you’re in a different country. Everyone is anxious to talk to another American.


On the trip back we stopped at High Dam and looked out over the nice view there. Obviously, it was a dam and that implies banality, but it was interesting to stand on top of probably the most influential structure in Egyptians’ lives. That dam made it possible to move closer to the Nile, from what I understand and it made life a lot less complicated in that floods were no longer an issue.


We arrived back in Aswan around 1pm and then headed (with our driver/guide guy) to the felucca where we would spend the afternoon and our second night in the south. We arrived at 2, but not at the boat we were expecting. When we were told “felucca” we initially assumed that it was a small boat but one with rooms and beds and bathrooms. None of the above were included. This was literally a little sail boat with a foam mat on the ground for comfort when sleeping. We climbed on, with 13 other people, and began our journey a little nervously. It seemed like it took forever to move along at all but later in the trip we realized that the guys driving the boat were killing time because there was a certain point that we had to end and going past it was not an option.


We floated for a really, really long time. I mean, there’s not much to do when there’s only one floor on a tiny boat and your surrounded, not uncomfortably though, by a lot of other people. So we talked. Oh, and I forgot to mention, our four plane buddies ended up on the same felucca as well. We got to know them pretty well from the adventure.


A side note on the other people present on the felucca--there was a guy who could play Harry Potter at the end of the 7th movie; he was the spitting image of Daniel Radcliffe and even had the accent to match. And there was a Zach George impersonator to a tee. He was completely like Zach in pretty much every way. It was a little creepy.


About 2 hours into the adventure the drivers bring out a vinyl table cloth, fold it in half, and lay it down in between the circle we’ve created by sitting along the perimeter of the boat. Then they set down about 8 differet styrafoam trays filled with vegetables, cheese, and fuul (Egyptian beans) and bread. So that was our lunch. One of the other people said, “Well, we’re having a communal lunch on the communal bed. Isn’t this nice.” And that really was an accurate statement. After we finished eating most people plopped directly backwards and took a nap. It was pretty comical, overall.


Around 7 we docked for the night and headed up onto the beach where we stopped. We were kind of just standing around plotting our next move when all of a sudden a guy shows up on a donkey and brings about 4 of his friends wielding necklaces etc. They asked us if we wanted to come see their village, so, like idiots, we followed them past their shanties for the donkeys and other animals and their gardens into their village. About a million little kids were already waiting and were shouting, “Hello, pen? Hello, pen?” which I presumed that they had met someone named Ben and now thought that every group of people who showed up contained at elast one Ben. I was wrong, theyr really were asking for pens, like the writing utensil. Harry Potter bought some for them but almost caused a riot in that he only had about 10 pens and there were a good 25 kids surround him for them.


This was a Nubian village that we visited, so it was a very interesting experience. Well, we assumed it was Nubian. The people were very friendly and I can honestly say it was great way to see the rural aspect of Egypt.


Then, we headed back to the boat to eat the dinner the men had prepared for us—a rice and tomato dish. There wasn’t much else to do after that, so most people just layed down on the rock hard pillows they had passed out in the first few minutes of the trip. No blankets surfaced, however, so we all just assumed that they didn’t exist. Let me tell you it was a cold night. The only thing covering us was a tarp-like piece of cloth that stretched from each side of the boat over our heads; the rest of the boat was open air. Wearing only a thin t-shirt and a skirt I devised a sleeping method that encouraged the most warmth retention—on my knees, hunched forward, with both of my arms huddled underneath me. This was not comfortable. However, we fell asleep listening to the sound of the Nile cruising by and a group of people singing, dancing, and playing drums around a fire across the river (no joke). The singing, the view, and the fact that I could see the stars from where I fell asleep made the trip completely worthwhile.


I woke up a lot with most of my body asleep, but 6 am came very quickly and we got up, ate bread and jam, and headed out onto the road where our “taxi” was waiting. The other four Americans, with whom we were then well acquainted, came with us (no surprise). We all bunched into the covered bed of of a pickup truck with built-in benches and we were off, careening through the Egyptian countryside. This is will be one of my favorite memories of Egypt, of this I’m sure. We drove for about half an hour, watching out the back of the truck as people on bikes, motorcycles, donkeys, and pretty much everything else went about their daily business. We saw people working their fields, and women washing clothes. And we saw kids running all over the place, waving when they saw us fly by. It was such a good memory; one that I’d expected and hoped to have experienced. Despite the difficulties of the lifestyle, I think I’d take rural Egypt over Cairo any day.


We stopped at Komumbo temple in the middle of nowhere. It was definitely one of my favorites of all of the sites we’ve visited thus far. It was early, so few people were around, although, I don’t think that particular temple saw as much traffic as many of the other ones. It think it was too rural. Anyway, it was a temple built to honor the crocodile, so scenes involving him were everywhere. Much of the original (or at elast I assume original) paint was still present and a good portion of the temple itself was still intact. Big pillars and high reaching walls were all still there, and we were free to walk around inside them as we wanted.


After we were all Komumbo-ed out we went outside the gates to sit and wait for our next mode of transportation. During our wait 2 boys showed up with the typical array of scarves and jewelry and as usual were budding us to buy some. After some intense haggling (I had nothing left to do) I ended up with a mix of about 40 bracelets, beaded necklaces, and amulet necklaces for very cheap. I figure they’ll make excellent gifts!


Eventually a van showed up and the 6 of us now intermixed with 4 others, started toward Edfu temple, about 2 hours away. This temple was a lot bigger but somehow less impressive. It was still striking, however, due to the fact that so much was still surviving after thousands of years.

From there we started toward Luxor, which ended up being the longest feeling ride of the whole trip. We arrived, exhausted, and Sam and I were told we had an hour before we were going to set back out into the awful heat to visit Carnac and Luxor temples. We grabbed some food and hopped into another van headed toward the sites. The temples were very cool and also very predictable at that point. More than once I heard myself say, "My face is melting off."

AFter the temples we had a nice dinner with our new friends and headed back to the hotel where we were able to switch on the television to and English speaking channel. Humdeleela (praise to God).

The next morning we set off again around 8 to beat the heat in the Valley of the Kings. That plan didn't go so well in that our driver slammed into the back of a car backing out of a parking space. This was my first experience with the recklessness of drivers going very badly. No one was hurt though, but the experience made for a good story to tell later. We made a pretty good mess of the back end of the other car, though. The driver called another van with another driver and pretty soon after the collision we were back on our way.

At the Valley of the Kings we hit 3 temples as were dictated on our tickets (one small, one medium, and one large tomb; humorous, yes). We were directed to the tombs of Ramses 1, 3, and 4 by our guide. All were very interesting and surprising just how much of the decoration remained despite the thousands of visitors daily bringing in humidity with their breaths and dirt from the outside.

From the Valley, we drove a few kilometers to Hapsetshut's temple, which was very impressive from the outside. However, the temple itself was not as ornate as many of the others  because it had been defaced by many different entities, one of which was a later pharaoh.

We then drove past the supposed site of Joeseph's stock piles of grain. I would have loved to stop there, but some of the party was beginning to wilt and didn't want to stop. So, I watched as a major piece of biblical passed by me without me even really seeing it. Oh well. We ended with some huge, and randomly placed, statues of what I believe were Ramses II (everything in Egypt is Ramses II). The story behind them is slightly interesting, however. When the Romans took over the area they found these huge statues and believed them to be their god Momen. (at least this is what we were told). Anyway, the statues had huge cracks in them so that when the wind blew, it would be routed through those cracks and create a wailing sound. The Romans interpreted this as Momen crying for his mother. I thought that was rather interesting. Leave it to the Romans to think that everything they find is automatically theirs.

That night, back in Luxor, we went to the mummy museum to end the antiquity adventures. This was a small but concise museum that I actually enjoyed more than the Egyptian museum here in Cairo. It was very organized unlike the museum here. That night we caught a flight back to Cairo--a very late flight full of only men. So that was yet another adventure. Farek was waiting for us when we got to the terminal, however, so we were so glad to see him. I swear, the man doesn't sleep and is always in the same cheery mood every time I see him. Gotta love Farek. He's such a good guy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 8, 2008

More letter writing today, which went well. They decorated stationary, copied the letters, and I sent them in the mail to my mom so that she could distribute them to some people we know and they could answer. The post office was an adventure in itself. I had my stack of letters and pictures the kids drew, so I walked in with them and asked for an envelope. Apparently it’s common knowledge that post offices don’t sell envelopes in Egypt so the guy behind the counter flicks his wrist to the left and says, “Outside.” So I trek back out to an old man sitting in a store the size of a closet and buy an envelope. I go back in the post office and stuff the letters, still in their Fulla folder (Fulla is the Egyptian version of Barbie complete with head scarf), into the flimsy envelope and I ask the guy how much it will cost to FedEx it. 150 pounds! That’s thirty dollars! For a normal sized, 8.5 x 11 envelope. I guess I should have figured as much.

So I ask about option 2. The Egyptian form of FedEx. 140 pounds! Ok, so I ask about the average run-of-the-mill Egyptian mail. I could deal with 20 pounds but first I wanted to know, “Will it make it to the US ok?” “Yes, yes, Insha’allah,” which translates to God willing. It was such a perfect moment to use that phrase because I’ve heard stories about the mail system here.

I had another perfectly Egyptian exchange earlier today, as well. As Sam and I were preparing to cross a street a man told us to stop. He was trying to be nice, thinking that we were new to the city and wouldn’t know how to cross. Anyway, he said “I’m sorry for the Cairo traffic. Is crazy. Best to close eyes, talk to Allah, and run.” I loved it.

On another note, the aspects of Cairo’s destitution are beginning to wear down on me. I’ve seen things I never expected. That in itself is a dumb thing to say, because I should have known better, but Egypt, in some ways, seems so advanced and headed in the right direction. And then you see something that makes you completely reconsider that assurance that you once felt. This is a good time to evaluate if I really can do this forever, if I can deal with these important things that get so often ignored because they’re difficult. Can I really deal with seeing these sorts of things on a regular basis?

As I was walking out of a restaurant tonight there were two beautiful little children standing outside, side by side, holding hands. The oldest, a boy, couldn’t have been more than 7 while the little girl was probably 3. I watched them pace back and forth in front of the restaurant for a little while, making note if their mother was nearby. They weren’t necessarily poorly dressed, but they had the potential for being a little under cared for. Anyway, the little girl was crying and reaching toward the restaurant’s window and I tried to understand if she was hungry or if her mother or father was eating in there, or perhaps if they worked in the restaurant. I tried to ask them if they were hungry, but they didn’t understand.

So I walked away and I found myself thinking, “What did that do?” How many times have I walked by people here because I was afraid it would be awkward if they weren’t really hungry or if their mother was just inside the door or if the language barrier would make it difficult to communicate. Did it really matter? I walked a little further and bought two scoops of chocolate ice cream and hurried back to where they had been standing. They were still there. I handed them to each kid and the little boy gave me the biggest, heart-wrenching smile. The little girl looked semi-terrified but it didn’t stop her from licking the drippings from her hand.

I know I should have bought them something sustainable, but every kid needs ice cream. Plus, as I had noticed, they didn’t seem like they were starving. I just couldn’t figure out why two little babies were walking alone, close to dark, near incredibly busy streets. I wanted to take that perfect little girl and boy home with me. I wonder if they’re really as valued as they should be.

Obviously the US has plenty of problems and say what you will about the levels of poverty in the US, and trust me, I’ve seen them, and while they’re unbearable by American standards they far outweigh some of what I’ve seen here.


Sometimes I don’t know what I expected to see here. I guess I thought that I was better prepared to deal with these difficulties, but in reality I there’s no way to really be prepared for them. I know that I deal with these things much in the way my mother does; I internalize the painful things I see and obsess over them. I just hope that what I’m doing, this class I'm teaching, isn’t pointless in the grander scheme of things. I’m trying, but that doesn’t give me much peace.

To end on a positive note, before all of this happened, we stopped by the hostel where we’ve been arranging our travel plans and afterwards Sam went to the big open market and I decided to wander again like I did the other day. I ended up at this huge Coptic church not far from the main drag where the Egyptian Museum is. It just so happened that a service was going on, so I decided to go inside and sit. I stopped and sat all the way in the back and listened to the service, which was only about 10 minutes long. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had here so far.

July 6, 2008


Today I had my class make all American mobiles for the 4th of July. The holiday is obviously passed but I still thought it would be fun to make them. Earlier, when we studied New York City, I had them color a Statue of Liberty that you could cut out and assemble. I had them add this to the center of the mobile and surround it with an American flag, a firework, a “Happy 4th of July”, and a star.


Wow, what a project. These kids are so excited to do stuff like this and I love doing crafts, but it’s exhausting! They have a difficult time with the concept of sitting quietly when you’ve finished the step that’s just been presented to you. They think that when they finish coloring their star they have to come up to me screaming, “Miss Julie! Miss Julie!” and immediately be given the next step. It’s a little bit comical at times. I’ve taken to employing the “If you can hear me clap once, if you can hear me clap twice, if you can hear me clap 3 times” technique, which works pretty well. I can’t really yell at them for being excited, though. I’m glad they like these things because I LOVE crafts.


We focused most of the day on writing letters. It went very well, with only a few snags. They knew generally what we were doing, but they hadn’t heard of the idea of penpals. I’ve decided to have them write letters and I’ll send them to my friends in the states to reply to them. Hopefully it works! When I told them this, however, they weren’t overly thrilled. I was expecting them to be really excited but the most I got was a rousing “Meh.” So, hopefully when the letters actually arrive they’ll be more excited.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Long Overdue

                                                  The 2008 Learning Enterprises Egypt Team

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Fourth of July, Egypt Style

July 4, 2008

Last night was relatively eventful as was today. The other volunteers decided to meet us in Cairo this weekend so around 2 am I went to the train station to pick up Jake and Christine. I had a little bit of difficulty finding them but once we found each other we embarked on the (difficult) task of finding a cab. Of course, being as tired as we were, we got sucked into one of the guys waiting outside of the station who insisted that we come with him. He said 20 pounds, we said 5. He said yes. But he meant 5 each. So we walked away and of course he took the bait and called us back. So we agreed on 5 pounds…and of course he walks up to another taxi driver, leans in to tell him where we’re going, and told us to get in. We should have left right then but we were tired so we got in.

When we got to the street that leads to the apartment we got out and I handed him the agreed upon 5 pounds. He starts freaking out even before he counts it (I gave it to him in small bills) and starts saying “10, 10, 10!” We just walked away as usual and he decides to follow us. We all decided that it was best to just go sit in Café TObasco for a while so that he would leave. We ended up waiting 15 minutes and he was still standing outside making a scene. Finally, one of the guys who works in the café came over to ask us to just pay the guy. So we did.

That’s honestly the first time I’ve ever felt uncomfortable here in Cairo, which I guess is a good thing. I don’t think the guy was going to do anything bad, obviously, but it was really creepy that he waited outside.

Anyway, today we took a van out to the Red Sea, which is about a 2 hour drive from Cairo. Running on around 2 hours of sleep we piled in the car with 3 other Americans, 9 of us in all, and started on our way with Farek and the actual driver in the front seat. I’ll admit we were a little bit confused as to what to expect from the beach, but once we got there and settled ourselves in it was really nice.

At first, however, when we pulled up to the incredibly Egyptian-filled beach and were told that we had to buy and umbrella for 150 pounds, we were a little bit annoyed. We ended up buying a hut-like thing that was only 30 pounds more expensive. In the end it was nice to be able to sit out of the sun for a while.

The beach was pretty agitating, though, but by beach I mean the people on the beach. The men were so much more annoying than usual, obviously because we were wearing swim suits. Actually, we weren’t even really wearing them; I had a one piece on with a long skirt (even in the water), Christine had a skirt and tank top on, and Sam had a top and a skirt on as well. Obviously I understand that people just curious and often just trying to be friendly, but all day every day begins to wear down on your mental stability. By the end of the day we were so on edge it was a long ride home.

The beach itself was beautiful, however. If everyone (or at least half of them) had been gone it would have been the most amazing day. iT was a good day, though, the water was such a great temperature and the beach was surprisingly clean. We had a good time after all, after we got all of the miscommunications out of the way.

This evening we went to the 4th of July party at the British school, which was much nicer than I could have imagined. It was as American as it could be! They had a very nice tent sent up with a jazz band and tons of free American food. We all loaded up with hot dogs and hamburgers, baked beans, corn on the cob, and a piece from the massive American flag cake.

It was really nice to have some American time, especially because it’s easy to get frustrated at times with some aspects of Egypt. The night ended with everyone singing I’m Proud to be an American, and I felt more patriotic than I have in a really long time. At home I would have thought this was really cheesy, but for that one night I thought it couldn’t have been more fitting.

Pre-Fourth of July Lesson

July 3, 2008

I’m now sitting on the floor of my living room cutting out 9x2 pieces of foam board so that we can make “Happy 4th of July” mobiles in class on Sunday. I’m glad that I can share things like this with my students here and I’m equally as pleased that they’re excited about doing these projects. This class is supposed to be an enrichment of sorts, so I’m trying to make it fun! They love the Statue of Liberty as well as the American flag so we’ve been doing a lot of activities with these two items. Today we drew fireworks, flags, stars, and that sort of thing (red, white, and blue of course) and earlier we made 3D Statues of Liberty. I’m hoping to add the statues to the center of the mobile and the other objects around her.

Today we talked about the meaning of the American flag. It’s really difficult explaining the concept of states and colonies, but eventually they understood. It’s so satisfying when they finally understand after I’ve tried 4 different ways of explaining and taken 15 minutes of class time to only discuss “colonies.” But! They finally understood and after repeating, “The stripes stand for the original 13 colonies and the stars stand for the 50 states” about a million times I know they’ll never forget. It’s small victories like this that I know will stick in their minds. Similarly, the day we learned how to say “Statue of Liberty” they’ll always remember because we worked so hard on getting that right.

I had expected to move much faster in my class but I’m realizing just how unrealistic that idea was. I’d been told by countless people that small steps were best and that I should be happy with them, but I kept thinking to myself “I know I can push them; I’ll make them learn a lot at a time.” It’s just not possible. The English levels in my class are just too spread out—I have some students translating perfectly when the other kids don’t get it and then I have a few that can barely understand when I want them to repeat something. 

Their English, however, is just about as canned as my Russian. When someone asks you “How are you?” you answer “Fine, thanks.” It’s funny how when languages are taught in school variation is not focused on. Again, because there just isn’t enough time. It’s exciting seeing them change their answers to simple questions such as that. Now, some say excellent, fantastic, great and so on (I haven’t taught any negative words for this question, so it makes me look better when they all say how great they are. Haha).

The beginning of today’s class was very frustrating, though. I had printed out a short story explaining the origins of Independence Day and passed it out for them to read to themselves before I even introduced it. I told them to circle the words that they didn’t understand. I left them to it for a while, even though it took a little bit for them to get the circling thing figured out, but it looked like they were doing ok. I wanted them to do something independently and to try to teach some reading skills like context clues, but it just didn’t work. The failures are often this bad, crash and burn to the extreme. 

It was a good thing to try, though, because I think I can build on it and try a shorter story with only 2 or 3 words they might not understand. Also, the subject matter was very foreign to them. I should have been able to recognize that. Maybe next time I’ll find a story or write a story about soccer or cats or something easy. Anyway, so I nixed that idea when they started to read it out loud and weren’t comprehending enough of it to be worthwhile. So, I decide to talk about the 4th of July. Whoa, blank stares across the board. 

I’m saying, “Americans have parties on this day. We have parades. We eat hamburgers and hotdogs. It’s the day that our country became a country.” They understand all of these words, but they just didn’t understand the whole “independence” deal. So, plan B was to compare it to Egypt’s similar situation later on. I explained how Great Britain controlled Egypt for a long time and that the day when Egypt gained its independence Egyptians celebrate. Again, nothin’. I’m beginng to wonder what I’m going to do with these kids for the next four hours because every activity I have planned involves the 4th. Finally, as a last resort I decide to look up the Egyptian Independence Day on the internet to see if I can find a picture or something. I find a page and my eyes fall on “National Day.” “Ok, do you guys know what National Day is?” The class erupts in shouting and nodding and smiling and I realize yet again, my assumption that my choice of words are not the problem was wrong. I had no idea that their Independence Day was called something other than that. Anyway, we got it figured out and I didn’t have to teach about something random I thought up as I went along. 

They loved the pictures that I brought from the Mount Morris Memorial Day parade this year. I figured that they didn’t really need to know that it wasn’t exactly the fourth. It’s similar enough. Anyway, they loved seeing the bands and cars and tractors. 

Then I asked them, after covering what Americans do on the fourth, I asked them to make up sentences describing those activities. Most of the answers were pretty standard, although I couldn’t make them understand that picnics were not necessarily in the streets, but oh well. One kid, though, had kind of a funny answer. “For the Fourth of July Americans drink juice.” Random, but it was a grammatically correct sentence so if he wants to think that we drink juice on the fourth, that’s fine by me.

Long Time No Posts

June 30, 2008

Anyway, This weekend all of the volunteers met up in Alexandria where Jake and Christine are working. We left Cairo early on Friday morning and caught a train heading in that direction at 8. We slept most of the way and they met us at the airport. 

Their apartment is very, very nice but I would say that the apartment itself is very similar to ours—brightly painted walls, comfortable size, relatively clean. Their location, however, is much better. Their apartment is surrounded by a garden and they only have to walk about 50 feet to their classrooms. So that in itself is very nice. They’re teaching more than us, though, so it’s good that they don’t have far to walk. 

Later that day we decided to hit up the beach and swim in the Mediterranean. The water was pretty gross, but it was such a great temperature that we couldn’t pass up swimming. I didn’t think of brining a bathing suit, which was the only problem so I just swam in a sports bra and the pj shorts I was going to wear to bed. It was a little bit awkward to say the least, but it worked just fine.

As for the rest of beach goers' swimwear, there was a mix of western bathing suits at their most liberal and their most conservative. Some ladies were even swimming in pants, long sleeved tops, and head coverings. The most conservative of the options, although I didn’t see this on the beach we visited, is called a burqini (a burqa that’s made into a swimsuit). Here’s what they potentially look like. There were some women with wet suit-like outfits and scarves on, but not this particular style. It was great to see these ladies in the water, though. I'm sure those clothes were a little heavy, though, so maybe the burqini option is a favored (but more expensive?) one. I'm not really sure.

            After showers we got ready for dinner at a place called The Jungle. It was amazing! It looked like a theme restaurant in Disney World; it had trees, fountains, a pond with flamingos, and so on. Actually, it could have definitely been a Rainforest Café but much cooler.

We also hit Pompy’s Pillar, which is the ruins of a huge Roman complex from the time that they occupied the city. There’s on remaining, fully intact pillar left, which sounds anti-climatic but was actually really awesome. It’s a lot full of foundations and ruins and in the middle there’s this massive pillar with 2 statues of sphinxes adjacent to it. For some reason that single pillar made me appreciate the true size of what the building once was better than if there’d been more. Christine and I walked around the perimeter but as we were stepping onto the path that lead to the pillar itself one of the guards asked us what our nationality was. After we said Americans he kind of hunkered down and said, “Follow me. I should you water.” We were a little confused but we decided to follow him down a set of stairs beyond a locked door. The guy was really skittish, which made us nervous but we eventually realized that he’d brought us down into where the water for the complex was held. It was really cool! He kept reiterating, “No picture of me. No picture of me,” which I guess meant that we weren’t supposed to be down in there. He wouldn’t accept a tip when we left, so that makes me think that we really weren’t supposed to be down there and he did it just to be nice, not for money.

From the pillar we headed over to a catacomb. It was really amazing! It was basically just a tomb that was underground, but it was really interesting. Some of the walls were still covered in relatively well preserved paint. We were allowed to have somewhat of free reign of the place, so we wandered around while our "tour guide" (an Egyptian man with minimal English who tries to get tips by explaining what things are with the words he knows) took around some Asian tourists.

We also went to the Alexandrian Library, which was built recently but it sits on the site of the ancient library. It was massive but the collection of books is much to be desired. From what I understand they ran out of money and didn't have enough to buy more books. I think this is better than having too many books and not a big enough facility. At least now they have plenty of room to expand. It was a beautiful building, though, but almost too modern.


We ate at McDonald’s today, which in the US I probably wouldn’t be that crazy about but here was AWESOME.  I didn’t think I could enjoy Mickey D’s that much—there’s definitely comfort in those golden arches. The other nice factor was the air conditioning, which after a long day of touring was much appreciated.