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). http://www.ahiida.com/index.php?a=subcats&cat=20 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.