Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eshufikou 3la Khair...

So the Middlebury semester has officially come to an end, and I have watched as all my American friends have departed Egypt's shores. It has been sad to say good-bye; we undoubtedly got closer over a trying semester, and I hope to see many of them back state-side. Wednesday night, we celebrated with an amusing talent show accompanied by dinner, plus the remaining people went to a movie the other night. I am not ready for this adventure to end, so I'm glad I have more time here to soak up Alex, Cairo, and my lovely Egyptians. Meanwhile, some observations, comments, ventations, lessons:

1.) This is a man's world. Women are unequivocally inferior, not only in the eyes of men, but as proven by their own belief in this. A woman should be a good mother and wife. If a husband hits his wife, she was unquestionably asking for it. Men own the streets, with their hisses and growls, and they own the mosque, they own the workplace in sheer number, and they own the house when return at the end of the day. Women are the source of all evil (a direct quote from my friend Farahat, after which I told him we better stop talking about the topic because I would hit him and then we wouldn't be friends.) It is heartbreaking to hear girls and women telling me this is how it should be, discussing with me only how many kids she wants and what her wedding will be like. Are women here living in ignorant bliss, or is there a way for them to wake up and struggle for equality with men? Ask me more about this topic when you see me, because I confront it every day.

2.) There is order here in that there is no order. I am often baffled as to how society functions, but it does, in its own dysfunctional way. This chaos is best represented by Egyptian drivers and pedestrians. Egyptian drivers have an unfailing grasp of how big there car is, making them capable of fitting in any space, between any two cars, or gaging their speed and lane-swaying just right so they don't hit the pedestrian ahead of them. I have never understood the phrase "dodging traffic" until now, a feat made easy by Egyptian pedestrians. This goes not only for traffic, but any sort of line, business, or institutions. Similarly, problems here only have temporary solutions. For example, if the tram driver would just learn to shut the doors of the tram as his job requires, Austin may not have had his accident, but somehow, arresting him seemed like a better solution to the police. Another example, when my friend Chelsea was having chest pains and vomiting, the doctor diagnosed that she was "allergic to Egypt." Ah yes, Doctor, thank you for your official and accurate diagnosis that has no treatment. This shows how, despite a semi-operational society, things fail because they are not thought-out.

3.) Egyptians love Egypt and have a very hard time criticizing it. This is either a symptom of apathy, or the cause of their apathy, or both, not sure. Apathy grows from fear, fear of the unknown, of change. Let me explain. About a month ago, Algeria beat Egypt in a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup, and the violent turnout was absurd. Egyptians absolutely refused to believe that they had done any wrong. Even my most liberal Egyptian friends defend the most irritating and conservative aspects of society here. The notion that "dissent is patriotic" does not exist. The source of this disinterest in changing one's country stems from fear that the status quo could be worse. Egyptians could be living under a dictator like Saddam Hussein who hunted his citizens, rather than a dictator masquerading behind democracy like Mubarak. They could be living with civil war and disease, much like their neighbors to the Sub-Saharan south. So relatively speaking, I guess you could say they have it good enough, so they'll vote with their pocketbook rather than hope.

4.) Jews and Gays are not on Egyptians' radar, and that is intentional. When a chit-chatty taxi driver asks me my religion (a normal introductory question here), Judaism is never an option. If an Egyptian doesn't like Obama, it's because "he likes the Jews". For your average uneducated Egyptian, there is no distinction between being Jewish and being an Israeli and/or Zionist. Israel and Palestine is a very sensitive topic that rouses even the most unpolitical Egyptian. I went to an action film that depicted all the Israelis as pure evil, and when I pointed that out to my Egyptian friends, they said that was normal. There may be a delicate alliance between the countries' governments, but there is nothing delicate about the way Egyptians feel about Israelis. Being gay just doesn't exist, it is that sinful. I would be curious to find out more about that community and what it experiences in a culture like this.

5.) Islam is life. Five times a day, rhythmic voices echo over loudspeakers squeezing into alleyways and reminding me of this. TV commercials display Quranic verses, reminding me of this. Seeing another uncovered woman shocks me, and reminds me of this. In fact, the 2nd Amendment of the Egyptian Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the state! There is something beautiful about a deeply devout society, but on the other hand, I wish Egyptian society could look for other sources of knowledge and enlightenment as well.

6.) Americans, or any foreigners living here, need to learn to laugh off the small irritating things. This includes not always having hot water, incessant catcalls and stares in the street, and general craziness and noise at all times. A lot of the students I think were unprepared for this, and maybe expected more. I'm not sure how I was able to let go and not care so easily so often. I was able to adapt and remember "When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable." (Clifton Fadiman, stolen from Abe/Chris's blogs.) I also think my having been raised in a multicultural environment allowed me to adapt culturally and socially as well. I feel at ease with the extreme religiousness of my friends here, people's forwardness and honesty, and also their cuddly warmth and loudness. Egyptians remind me of Puerto Ricans a lot: they are always ready to laugh and celebrate something (preferably with noise, music, and food), they are incredibly welcoming and generous, and they are emotional and religious. Many of the American students complained about the homogenous environment here, claiming to be accustomed to America's melting pot. I feel that that was a liberal façade for their own intolerance; most of the program's students come from financially comfortable families in predominately white areas and go to predominately white private colleges. They have never lived or worked closely among true diversity. There was a lot of negativity from a good chunk of the program's students, but I just felt sorry for them, that they weren't able to benefit intellectually and emotionally from the experience as I was.

I do hope that was somewhat coherent and beneficial (my English has been lacking of late.) I have so much more to share with you upon my return. Until then, I'll be hurrying around Egypt to immerse myself in it as much as possible. The other night, I went to a Christmas carol performance in a stunning Coptic church with my professor. I've been spending lots of time with friends here in Alex, going to all my favorite places and laughing with my Egyptian roomies. Also, I am now bringing home a fish (if she makes it past customs), as my peachy roommate Reham thought this was a good idea for a good-bye present. Egyptians have funny thought processes. I get more emotional by the day about leaving here, but with that grows my determination to return. I am also comforted by the fact that I have such wonderful friends and family waiting for me at home.

Los quiero todo un montón,

Gamila جميلة
Some of my best (American) girlfriends and me at the talent show.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fri. Dec. 11th, 2:40am

Imberah my 1-on-1 professor was late. As always, I expect nothing of it, since, let’s be honest, Arab time is a flimsy and malleable thing. But then she phones me and confesses to being laid up in bed with a sore back… meskeena. Of course Veronica and I will find our way to your sha’a so you can sit comfortably while you lecture us. Meshii, eshuf hadratik kamaan showea. So we casually jump into the afternoon zehma, garnering some good stares along the way. We make it to her turf, and proceeded to discuss the strength of Copic nuns and how the overdose of testosterone in men’s brains prevents them from being successful leaders. Women really should rule the world. Can you fathom the challenge of dedicating yourself to dialogue with God, in a cave for decades, at that?! Umne Yirini grew miracles from air, and my Usteza Hiba guides me with her t3leem down an unknown path. There is something about this place, perhaps everyone’s inherent religiousness, that leads me to not only desire God, but to see him in Everything around me.

Dinner includes awkward conversation, liver (a spicy tang), and dead cockroaches. But I like it when those at first cumbersome conversations turn down greener paths; it is so rewarding, so I keep at it, and end up genuinely laughing. I’ll take that.

But sitting down in a bar that would be divey in America but is just classic in Egypt with some good and familiar people is heaven. Chelsea, Amanda, Hima, Chris, later gayeen Dan wi Jon. We let loose about Egypt; even I need to vent, rehash, and we do, passionately. I can barely remember the last time I had a political discussion, so even despite the never-ending frustration that comes with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am intellectually grateful. Then in walk the Arabs themselves, Karim wi Kholy, Bazooka wi Tabaakh. I feign outrage when Hima offers to sell me to Kholy, who then states he doesn’t want me. I shine because I can understand them and they me. I found Faree’ Marwaha, which involves me, Bazooka and Tabaakh pounding fists and whirring. Beer fills my stomach, laughter my mouth, love the rest of my body.

I wake and prepare for some sensory goodness from Amreeka! On the way to breakfast, I am reminded of the lack of personal space in this country when a woman feels Chelsea up on the tram, meaning (in Egyptian) “Let me by”. Breakfast is a clash of kitchens, with pancakes smeared in Nutella and frowla versus Egyptians strewn all about Khalid’s apartment. I cut strawberries and putz around, and Khalid and I beat Semeh wi Farahaat at Dominos: Team Amreeka Fuck Ya 1, Team Welcome in Masr 0.

Elley and I leave, surrendering ourselves to Alex’s streets, reaching the lengths of Mohatta Raml and crossing over into Manshiyya. We undoubtedly feel comfortable in the city, and we look around shamelessly, seeping any last culture it can offer. I lightheartedly banter with shopkeepers, knowing they will ask my name and then “Wa intii fi3lan gamila.” As if it is original for me to hear "And you are actually beautiful" after introducing myself here. I am unphased, even letting them convince me to by an unk made in damn China. Asking for and comprehending directions is one of the most gratifying experiences I will recall here. Alhamdulillah, begad.

We dip bangar in tahina, wrap our fuul in a3eesh, top off our palette with gibn almost sweet. The simple joy of food at Mohammad Ahmed calls for silence as we compete to finish as much as we can as fast as we can. And all for $2! That will never get old. I feel strangely Egyptian as I lean against a car licking ice cream from Halwiyaat Masr afterward; if only I wasn’t laughing in public while my uncovered hair billowed in the Mediterranean winter wind.

I depart my girlies, heading south to meet Hima & Khalid for our tegriba sakafiyya. The concert turns out to not be classical Egyptian music, but rather your average classical music, although strung by some very good-looking Egyptians. M3lihsh, I was surrounded by good company. Afterward we let the cold night push us around Mohatta Raml, glancing up and around, chit-chatting. We buy popcorn and TinTin adventures in Arabic while staring at the enigma that is an Egyptian wedding. While narkab-ing the tram, Khalid guards my innocence from a gross and inappropriate man; InShaAllah Hima took note and will be a savior to some girls next semester. I allow myself to be unaffected by it as I have been almost all semester; is this dangerous complacency or analytical acceptance?

Tabaakh and Karim and Bazooka are waiting for me, much to the conservative dismay of the soldier guarding the Medina. Haraam, akeed. Damn, I can laugh with those boys, and they can so easily become my boys. Time with them pulls my steps back from leaving Masr’s shore, makes me want to waste nights in ‘ehwas with them. I confess to Karim how much I’ve missed him, that I never stopped caring, that I hate hearing about his moods vicariously. I adore him, for all is irritating idiosyncrasies that somehow make me dramatic, too. I think I slithered into the everest green of his eyes, bypassing the gray he covers himself with. I promise them all I will come back.

I know they will all be waiting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

مدغستش من مصر

Ay el-helwa di?! Habibis, Azizis, besos y abrazos de Masr! Just wanted to share a couple happy days with you...

This past Thursday night, a week after the actual date... drumroll... I celebrated Turkey Day in Egypt. Can cross that off my list! One of the best holidays ever, with some of the yummiest food, and some of the ishta-ist people. Many of us spent the day running around Alex searching for ingredients, carrying pots and pans from one apartment to another and battling with shitty Egyptian stoves. The day's toils culminated in a successful feast, AlHamduLillah! Almost impossibly, we ate turkey, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet and mashed potatoes, corn bread, pumpkin and apple pie!! The group before gorging:
After the yumminess, some girlfriends and I decided, since it was officially Christmas month, it was now appropriate to cuddle up on two beds pushed together and watch Love Actually. We "aawweed" a lot and squealed.

Funny thing: Friday morning, I was elatedly listening to Christmas music (de Puerto Rico, claro), when the call to prayer ricocheted through my open window, drowning out José González. I chuckled out loud at the slight clash of civilizations.

I met up with Lizz & Eric midday at the dorms, and we headed out on our touristy adventure. Our first stop was the cemetery of a Coptic church, a stone maze of Celtic-like crosses draped with Arabic calligraphy and flowers of mourning. We wondered through the tombs, trying to decipher inscriptions, appreciating the non-Muslim side of Alex we had come across. Islam is so prevalent in daily life here, that I sometimes forget there can be anything else like the saints prevalent in Coptic foundations. We were graciously welcomed into the exquisite church's sanctuary, where we admired the Coptic-style icons infused with more European style artwork. Truly beautiful:
We then trammed westwards to explore the only Roman amphitheater in Egypt, as well as the baths and other excavations surrounding it. We ran into our dear friend Doctor Matta, who accompanied us on this goofy historical tour. Excavations are still being done on this site, which looks like a pile of rubble at the moment, but apparently underneath it are Muslim tombs, and some houses and schools. There wasn't a ton to see, but we made the most of our exploration, entering every nook and posing with sphinxes dredged from the Alexandrian harbor (there are possible plans to make an underwater museum of all the ruins there!) Check out more recent photos to narrate, but here's ya girl:
I topped off my day by watching some awesome American & Egyptian boys play soccer. Lying in bed later that night, I was overwhelmed by pure euphoria. My base line here has always been happiness, so tangible and honest, and then it comes welling out of me after extraordinary days. I love my life here. Today, I used that energy to write 3 short essays for an application to a government-funded language program called CLS. I will come back here next summer, in whatever capacity.

Despite my infatuation with this place, I still get thrilling jitters every time I think of going home. I am looking forward to the simple pleasures: lazing around with la familia, fires in Goshen, bundling up and walking downtown Northampton, vegetables. You all better be missing me lots!

حب
جميلة
Yamila

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Aid al-Shukr عيد الشكر

كل سنة و انتو طيبين!! عيد سعيد من مصر يا حلوين
Every year and may you all be well! Happy Thanksgiving from Egypt, my sweet ones. And Happy Aid al-Adha to any Muslims reading! Yesterday started the 3-day holiday celebrating Ibrahim's sacrifice of his son Ishmael (or Isaac) to God. The butcher shop down the street from my dorm has had a herd of sheep stinking up the block for the last week, and in the last couple days, most of them have been killed. Yesterday, I greeted a dumb-looking cow in the morning, and later that afternoon, I saw him get beheaded! On the sidewalk, no gloves, in the middle of a 5-million person city. I am all for being in touch with our food sources, but come on, can we have some hygienic sensitivity please? During Aid al-Adha, people with the means to do so should buy this meat to share with their neighbors and the poor. Everyone should wear new clothes and be with family and pray. Everything is closed, so Alex is uncharacteristically haadi, calm. The dorms are also empty صمت في كل مكان silence everywhere.

One thing I love about this experience is the fact that I am not merely a visitor to Egypt... I live here. That is not to say I am a resident, but I do more than see the sites, I see the culture and its people and their ways. I want to remember more than the epic monuments and landscapes I've seen; I want to recollect the butcher shop down the street, tram rides to go shopping in Ibrahamiyya, the morning walk to the kulia, cruising to techno in Karim's car, giggling with the Masriaat roommates, not understanding a word of my professors' lectures on Arab literary figures or Muslim ways of governance.

I live in the University of Alexandria dorms in the neighborhood of Shatby, which is pretty central to the city. My roommate is named Reham, and she like most of the other girls here, is from the "countryside", al-reef, anywhere from 1-2 hours out of the city. I love all of the Egyptian girls very much, and they love me. They help us with Arabic homework, go out with us to movies and shopping, give us cultural advice, and have giggle fests with us. Of course, there are some levels on which we can't interact; I would never tell them about the details of my social life in America, and all the sex, drugs, and rock & roll it includes. A sample conversation with one of them, upon leaving the cinema one night:

Her: It's good we're leaving now, all the couples start coming.
Me: What's wrong with that?
Her: Well, they're not married.
Me: Oh. That's weird. In America, dating like that is normal. I fell in love and started dating when I was 15, and 6 years later, I am with a different man who I also love.
*Short silence in which I fear she will either damn me to hell or try to convert me to Islam*
Her: That's interesting. Okay.
Me: Do you think less of me now?
Her: No, I just wouldn't live my life that way.

Okay! Good conversation: no war, slight clash of civilizations, and we're still friends! The rest of the world should follow our example. But truly, they know and accept that we aren't Muslim and so live our lives differently. I am often very frank with the girls, pushing their zones of comfort with sometimes inappropriate jokes and challenging their conservatism in religious discussions. They still love me. I've had some eye-opening discussions about Islam and spirituality, cultural divides, and even love. I have also giggled with them to the verge of tears. Leaving these girls will be one of the hardest things about returning to America. They are already making me promise to come back next summer, saying they'll be waiting.
Those are my friends in the Medina (the dorms). Then there are Karim & Kholy. These boys are from the city itself, meaning they come from more money. They are Muslims, too, but more internally, as they drink and go to clubs and the like. حرام عليهم Haram upon them! They also hang out with us, Western females, whereas the Egyptian boys who live in the boys' dorms get awkward and nervous around us. Karim and Kholy and their friends all speak English pretty well, maybe went to private school, and generally know more about Western culture. I have become very close with both Karim & Kholy. My "two sets of friends" is very representative of how class is structured here in Egypt.

Weeks here are from Sunday to Wednesday, and the center (al-merkez) we take classes in on the Univ. Alex campus is a 10-minute walk from the dorms. All our professors are Arabs from Univ. Alex, so classes are... well... different from your American liberal arts private school education. Arabs like to lecture and not encourage student participation, leaving them sitting on their intellectual high horses. They don't like handing back corrected homework or getting student evaluations. Needless to say, this leaves many of us frustrated, but I have still managed to take something from my 5 classes. Also, I didn't come to Egypt to do homework, that is to say, the academic experiences comes second to the cultural/linguistic immersion one.

1.) FusHa, also known as Modern Standard Arabic. Very proper and correct Arabic, used for televised and published news, the language of the Quran, and spoken among literary and academic geniuses. You will get laughed at if you try to speak this in the street. In that sense, seemingly useless. As is my FusHa professor! Rab yir-bereku, may God bless him, but that man's lack of a teaching ability could be the death of my love for this language.
2.) Amiyya, colloquial, Masriyya. A light workload (sometimes too light), an important topic. We unlearn proper grammar and pick up street expressions. My teacher is fabulous, regularly taking us out to ice cream.
3.) Islamic Politics. Very interesting and complex topic combining all the religious and social and political aspects of this society. I just wish the teacher would encourage discussion more. The readings are very challenging in Arabic, but it's good for building vocab.
4.) Arabic Literature. We've read some good stuff, (the classics: Naguib Mahfouz, Mahmoud Darwish), and learned about some other figures. Same problem, in that he just lectures away, we don't analyze much. Check my friend's blog for some Arabic poems eloquently translated into English.
5.) Gender Studies. This is my one-on-one course, which I split 3 hours between 2 incredible professors. One of them is a liberal Muslim woman named Shadia, the other a liberal Coptic Christian woman named Hiba. This has been the best academic part of the program. Both women have shared some very interesting (and challenging!) commentary on women's issues in the region, in the form of novels, articles, movies, and conversations. My friend Veronica (the other student) and I have watched a couple movies with Shadia, a great one being Four Women of Egypt, another about the lives of female servants in Tunisia.

A couple days ago, Hiba took Veronica and I to a Coptic monastery outside of Alex. It was an incredibly calming and peaceful, a beautifully manicured enclosure set in the desert against the ocean shore. The nuns welcomed us like sisters and fed us like orphans. We toured the compound, and then our professor gave us a little lecture on Copts, particularly the life in the dir, or the monastery. They pray, do their daily duties, and translate religious texts into various languages. We learned about the different celebrated saints, and various founders of the nunnery life, from Saint Mercurius to Saint Antonius. It was a spiritually rich experience, made all the more so by my professor's deep faith, visible in the way she spoke of the miracle around her. On our way back to Alex, between singing Christmas carols in a variety of languages, I couldn't help but be critical. If a God from an institutionalized religion finds me and leads me down that sort of path, I need to be part of a religion that gives back God's bounty to those who aren't as lucky. Service will always be part of my life, and so it was hard to understand these women enclosing themselves in a monastery to pray. Kislaya reminded me that these people "indisputably generate positive energy that is a catalyst for change and benefits us all, even without our awareness." I guess I will have to be happy with that, and let each of God's children find their own way.

What else are my days made up of? Sometimes tourism: tombs, fortresses, today, the Alexandria Museum. Sometimes just hanging out at friends' houses, just like in the states (well, less alcohol.) Last night we celebrated Aid at my friend Khalid's house, a nice group of people, playing Dominos and Scrabble (in Arabic.) A couple days ago, the director's father gave an interesting lecture on translating the Quran (not an easy task), and then we all went out to dinner على حساب البرنامج on the program's bill! A few nights ago Karim and I went out to a club for its salsa night! Invariably, outings revolve around food, which is fine with me, as I think I could eat kufta (spiced meat), tahina, and stuffed pigeon (hemmem mehshee) forever.

Do you see why my heart breaks a little bit when I think about leaving this place? The above are all the reasons I have to come back as soon as I can. Nonetheless, I know I will be happy when I return home, because I find happiness wherever I am in life. Please eat lots of leftovers for me (particularly cranberry sauce), as I have yet to have a legitimate Turkey Day meal; a friend and I made chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes. I gave thanks for having the means to experience Egypt (¡Gracias, Mami & Papi!) And I will be so thankful, mutashukra (متشكرة) when I come back home to all your loving!

Besos y abrazos,

Yamila جميلة

PS- A normal evening along the Corniche. AlhamduLillah!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Moon 14

ازيكوا يا حلوين؟ كله تمام هنة في مصر، بس محتاجة استراحة من المذاكرة
Screw reading about the collective religious consciousness in Egypt! Salaam min Masr, the mother of the world! How are the spacious skies and amber waves of grain over in Amreeka? I miss it. My first meal when I get back? French toast drenched in maple syrup, BACON, a fresh fruit salad, and Puerto Rican coffee. By the way, for any who were fearing, I have decided not to stay the whole year here, although this was a distinct possibility, and the decision was a hard one, as the thought of leaving Egypt tugs at my heart. I dream to come back this very summer, equipped with a senior thesis and hopefully some grant money.

Some pictures & thoughts from our latest trip to Upper Egypt (really Southern Egypt, reached by an 18-hour train ride through increasingly drier and hotter weather):

"On the River Nile. The sun just descended behind the sandy rock plateaus to the west. The Egyptians' party felucca with its claps and drumbeats reverberates across the still water. Pink and golden hues sweetly grace the surface, quickly disappearing into deep blues, and soon, darkness. My comrades play Monopoly behind me, cards in the nearby boats. My feet are draped over the edge of the boat. We stop for dinner on the shore."
So went my 2 days on a felucca cruising northward on the bounteous Nile! Days were packed with nothingness, some Dominos and some epiphanies, and nights with rounds of Mafia and conversations on the stern of our felucca. One word to sum it up: Salaam. I wrote a lot, so here were 3 things I've learned about myself this semester so far:
1.) I'm adaptable to new places and their people.
2.) I believe in God and have a deeper spirituality than I thought.
3,) People are drawn to me for my positive energy, openness, realness and humor.

The two big cities in Upper Egypt are Aswan and Luxor. We hit up Aswan first, where we ate stuffed pigeon, perused its great sou' (market) and I learned to dominate at Dominos. I liked that Aswan is not stereotypical Egypt. Nubians and their rich history are littered across Aswan, with some great museums & ruins, as well as a little village plopped on an island in the river center. Although these distinct people contributed pharaonic greatness to Egypt, their villages were the first to go when Lake Nasser was created; as you can see, their past and present are sometimes at odds with modern Egypt. I also visited my first Coptic church here, opening my eyes to the 10% of Egyptians who are not Muslims. I was quickly reminded of my deepening respect for religion as I sat in peace in the balcony overlooking mass, the strange iconic faces painted on the walls and the Arabic chanting sending me into a time warp.

A 4-hour drive south of Aswan, maybe some 15 miles from the Sudanese border, is Abu Simbel in all its greatness. You may recognize what I mean:
Ramses II knew how to build himself a temple, that's for shit sure. Typical of any egotistical male ruler, he was honoring his own glory in battles and trying to intimidate enemies. The 4 figures outside are all Ramses himself, with his wife and children at his feet. The inside of the temple is carved full of ornate depictions of offerings to gods like Osiris, god of the underworld, and Amun, one of the era's main divinities. Next to Ramses' temple was his wife's, Nefertari, also dedicated to the goddess Hathor, figure of fertility and life. In the 60's, as the Aswan High Dam was being built, it became clear Abu Simbel would drown. So began the UNESCO-led engineering feat of man to move this relic to safer ground. Between 1964-1968, it was cut into ginormous pieces, and indeed, saved by moving it to higher ground, where it now sits on the edge of man-made Lake Nasser. Check here for more photos, but honestly, go see it yourself:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2030037&id=1238610154&l=8a38930869
Wanna hear some more ancient history? I heard my favorite story as we visited the Philae, an island south of Abu Simbel on which lies the Temple of Isis. Isis is my girl. She was married to her brother Osiris (don't judge), and they ruled the world happily & justly together (aaww), but their brother Seth was jealous, so he killed Osiris and chopped him into little pieces. Isis was a badass woman, so despite her grief, she used her power to locate his body parts and revive him long enough for them to make a child together. Osiris become the god of the underworld, and so was born Horus, whose sole purpose was to avenge his father. He spent his life training to fight Uncle Seth, which he eventually did, but he wouldn't have won had it not been for Big Mama Isis. Horus is represented by the falcon, and was later seen as a symbol of kingliness by pharaohs.
After Aswan came the feluccas, which led us (slowly) northward to Luxor. Best part of Luxor (besides using a real bathroom and not the Nile shore)? Bikes & Karnak. One day, about half the group and I rented squeaking break-less bikes, crossed the Nile to the West Bank, and set out. We saw the Valley of the Kings, where over 63 kings and their families built ostentatious and glorious tombs for themselves. We saw Hetshepsut's Temple, a great queen who gave real meaning to "Girl Power". We did this all by bike under the roaring desert heat, but it was well worth it, especially after collapsing in a family's shaded backyard for some traditional Egyptian food. After rejuvenation, we hit up the Karnak Temple. EPIC. Ya Allahi! The largest ancient religious site in the world, Karnak was added to by many a ruler honoring many a god, and this is visible by its sheer size. I tried to soak up everything I could. I will always remember standing in the Hypostyle Hall, dwarfed by 134 hieroglyphic-ed pillars representing a papyrus forest. I lost myself to time as the sun set on this spiritual fortress.Before we return to modern Egypt up north, some favorites:1.) Phallic symbols at every m3bed (temple) we went to. I had a running tally. 2.) Dinosaur faces/sounds with Elley. Friends in general.3.) Eating a McFlurry while touring Luxor's temple (are you seeing a temple theme here?!)
Oh, but the adventure did not end! Yullah! About 15 of us climbed back on the train for another 10 hours. This is the part of the story where I discover the "Twilight" series, leading me to sorely desire a vampire habibi... alas. Anyway, this train took us to Cairo, where we were met by 10 of the Egyptian boys from Alex. We then headed to a Mohammad Mounir/Chab Khaled concert, an Egyptian & Algerian singer who got together to celebrate the World Cup qualifier match (which ended quite badly.) Surrounded by our army of Masreen Gemideen (strong Egyptian men), we amusedly watched thousands of Egyptians smoke hashish, wave flags, and chant along to the music!
Needless to say, Iskandriyya welcomed me with open arms as our bus pulled in to the Mediterranean's shoulder at 6am the next morning. And here I am, still sorting through Egyptian paradoxes, still loving Egyptian warmth, still living large. I love this city's calm yet confident energy. A few days ago I went tomb raiding with my Egyptian friend Kholy, but I'm no Angelina, as I fell into 2 feet of tomb water. This evening, I watched an Egyptian movie at one of my professor's house. This week begins Aid al-Adha, celebrating Ibrahim's sacrifice of Ismael to God. Many sheeps will be slaughtered (a sight I have grown surprisingly accustomed to walking by), and everyone will be with family. All the program's students are traveling the region, but I will use the opportunity to soak up Alex, and hopefully will find some Americans, a turkey, and ideally some cranberry sauce, to share Aid el-Shukr (Holiday of Thanks) with.
I will be thankful for all of you next time I see God in the sunset over the sea. I can't wait to see you.
جميلةGamila
PS- What does Moon 14 mean? Sounds better in Arabic: " 'Amr arba3t-a3shr"... it means you are as sweet and wonderful as the moon is 14 days into the month... when it is full! I love this language...PPS- A happy picture of some friends on a felucca:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MASR!

Ooohhhhh Maasssrrraauuuwwwwiiiii!!! Salaam min Masr, kulne mabsooteen owee hina! Masr just impossibly won a qualifier match against Algeria to get them that much closer to going to the World Cup. I just got back from watching the match in an energy-packed coffeehouse, and will do the same for the final match between them on Wednesday. I returned to my dorm to find 30 Masreaat celebrating with ululations and ruckus dancing and screaming in the common room. There are red, white and black flags streaming from every car, horns and hollers filling the streets, facepaint, and excited Egyptians everywhere. We are all Egyptians today!
I am now lying in my bed attempting to recover, but I think I'm coming down with a cold. I thought I'd use the lazy opportunity to inform you all of what it means to be a woman here. This has been one of the foremost topics on my mind since I arrived, since it is a challenge I face every day, and because my one-on-one course is about Gender Studies. It has been the ultimate example of mixing my personal experiences with an intellectual angle. Here goes, as I try to consolidate my emotions, religion, society, economic factors and history into a meaningful explanation.

On a day to day basis, life has become much easier to deal with as a female here. At the beginning, I couldn't stand the stares I got from every Egyptian. This includes women, which was even more infuriating, as I expected some solidarity, but as a Western woman showing skin and hair, I am a walking sin. I quickly learned that wearing skirts above the ankle would attract more stares, adjusted my clothing a bit, and learned to take it. I can't go into certain cafes, and at a place like the concert I went to in Cairo a couple nights ago, I am often one of the few females. I have a good street face: I don't look at anyone, just straight ahead with a tough "don't mess with this Gringa" look. It doesn't bother me as much anymore, although I of course find some men to be hypocritical dogs who deserve to be punched.

Some people back home were surprised when I told them virtually every woman is covered here, as they remembered traveling the region and not seeing as much higab before. This is due to a greater Islamization of society occurring after the 1967 war with Israel, when high aspirations of Arab nationalism came tumbling down. Nasser had failed and Jerusalem was lost. Why? Their answer was because they had been bad Muslims, straying too far toward Western immorality. Radio programs, books and pamphlets with Islamic encouragement started to be published, and the higab and the beard became more common in the streets.

Why do women even wear the higab, or the niqab (the one with only an eye slit)? Ah, the never-answered question. Here is my fuzzy comprehension. Now, I have not read the Quran Kareem, but I have been told it does not explicitly demand a woman cover her head; it suggests she cover up in vague language. My clearest understanding of the phenomenon comes from an intense conversation about religion with one of the Egyptian girls (a Muslim, I escaped conversion though) here in the dorms (in Arabic, thank you very much.) She explained to me how alcohol is forbidden in Islam because it clouds a believer's mind, makes them forget the righteous path and their faith in Allah. Sexual temptation does the same thing, and seeing a woman's hair, body, or even face, tempts men. So at this point you are all thinking what I am: why is it a woman's responsibility to reinforce a man's faith?! Mish 3adl, not fair, but it's all I have to offer.

This is not to say that women have no presence or role in this society! It is just less than we are used to back West. It also depends on class, as it would anywhere. More well-off Egyptians tend to be more liberal, practicing Islam less or more inwardly. On the other hand, if an Egyptian girl comes from a poor family, she will be married as soon as possible to relieve the burden to her father, exemplifying the cycle from uneducated daughter to housewife. And that is not to diminish the role of mother or wife, as many of you admirable women know are some of the hardest jobs in the world. But the idea that a woman is only good for those roles is the danger in this society. Thankfully, I know many impressive women here: the Egyptian girls I live with are getting educated, many of them to be nurses and doctors in this country's deplorable health system. My professors are powerhouses who are nurturing change and growth. These women don't need to be saved from the higab, or from the harassment on the streets, nor do they want to be. They make their choices because they love Islam, or Egypt, or both. If they create their own paths, I respect them.

I have learned about some outstanding Egyptian women in my course, which is taught by 2 similarly impressive doctors, both of whom I deeply admire. In terms of Masr's history, in the times of British influence and during the rule of Mohammed Ali and Saad Zaghloul (first couple decades of 20th century), Hedy Showrii founded the first female union in Egypt and the Middle East, helped run a female committee on the Wafd party (around before Nasser), and wrote about and for women. Nebwiyya Musy was the first woman to get her high school diploma in Egypt, and went on to found a very successful school for girls and publish curricula for the Ministry of Education, along with other influential writing.

Want to know a little more? The following 2 links are to recent goings-on in terms of harassment and popular Islamic culture here in Egypt:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7514567.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8290606.stm

This article is about Muslim women speaking for themselves, rather than asking the West to:
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=5&article_id=107315

This is a longer article that was in the NYT Magazine over the summer detailing how women are the world's solution to its problems:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/magazine/23Women-t.html?_r=1

I hope this has shed some light on the woman's role here in Egyptian society. It is a constant struggle full of paradoxes! It is often hard to wrap my head around my emotional and intellectual reactions, but I know I am both fascinated and moved, confused and frustrated. I want to return to Egypt this summer and do thesis research on women here, with the help of my 2 professors here, InShaAllah.

Chew on that! Lighter blog entry about Upper Egypt soon to come, my heloweens (sweet ones).

مصر!

جميلة

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bedouins, Palm Trees, Sand

سلام عليكم من مصر! ايه اخبار؟

It has been a dark day here in Egypt, despite the ever-shining sun glinting on the sea. I could use a written escape back to the Siwa Oasis, a gathering of palm trees and mud buildings plopped in the middle of the vast Western Sahara.

The first day of our program-sponsored trip was spent touring the sites via the courtesy of our local guide Himeda. First was Gebel El-Mawt, the Roman-era mountain necropolis. I didn't really pay attention to the narration as I was somewhat distracted by the view, which was the coolest thing about this pile of sand and stone:

Then we went to another pile of sand and stone, this one called Amon, where Alexander reportedly visited to consult its famous oracle. He wanted to double-check that he was a son of the Gods (inshaallah). Rumor has it he requested to be buried there, but archaeologists' best bets are that he now lies somewhere under the streets of the very city I am living in. Anyway, more nice views from up there. Next stop was Cleopatra's Bath, an antique natural spring that she probably never swam in. The water was beautiful, as were the hours of lounging spent in a pillowed restaurant next to it. Learned Egyptian Backgammon and laughed. Then we rented bikes and hauled ass out of the little town to Fatnas Island, a palm-treed peninsula on a salt-lake with an expansive view of plateaus, Libya, and the neverending desert.

Evening was spent lying on more pillows eating more food with good company (a favorite pastime in this country.) I also visited Shali that night, the old walled fortress ruins where the Siwans barricaded themselves against enemies, pictured behind me.

Next day I wondered through the square, perusing the traditional handcrafts and bartering with friendly shopkeepers. The people are more Bedouin than Egyptian, speaking their own language, blending Islam with a sort of geographic traditionalism, and making their living by dates, olives, basketry, silverwork, and now tourism.

In the afternoon, we contributed to that booming business by hiring a group of badass Bedouins to show us the desert in their Landcruisers (driving down vertical dunes is heartstopping.) What can I say about the desert... no, the Sahara? My first thought is that it is perfect. The cascading, lilting sand forms impeccable shapes. If tire tracks mar it, the wind just lends a helping gust, and perfection reigns once more. Ah, but of course, it hides so much menace! What a mirage every view seemed to be. We were thrilled. Especially when we stopped in a spring smack dab in the rolling dunes! I. Swam. In. A. Pond. In. The. Sahara. Desert. In. Egypt. Some situations are too outrageously surreal to fathom without feeling drunk on life! Thus, I often find myself repeating various situations outloud to myself in order to believe them. Then we watched the sun set from the highest dune to be seen. I am a sucker for dramatic skies, so my heart melted a bit with this colorful poem. No words can do it justice, please look at photos (http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2028313&id=1238610154&l=f1993cc8cd).

After successfully navigating down this big dune on a snowboard (same concept, different climate!), I was led to the Bedouin camp. We waited for dinner around a big fire listening to traditional Siwan music drummed by our guides and now friends Himeda & Co. Our chicken dinner was cooked in an under-the-sand oven, and it was lezeez owee. After kidnapping our friend Ahmed and burying him in the sand (Egypt makes you do strange things), a bunch of us trekked out into the night with nothing but a guitar. The next hours were spent beneath the universe. We sang and jammed to shooting stars, double-tailed ones, green and red ones. We fell asleep there, and woke up with the sun scratching the end of our dune-bed with its golden tendrils. I have never been more aware of the earth's rotation: the sun said good-bye to me, the moon rose and fell back into the sand, Orion stood up and sat down, and the shemss returned to greet groggy me. What a night.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2028313&id=1238610154&l=f1993cc8cd

And once again, I take you back to Alex. So why the darkness now? A friend is hurt, bad, and I am sad, the whole program is sad. He will live, alhamdulillah. But I keep asking myself Why. I am okay, and I will be; you know me - strong and adaptable! Trying situations are made all the more challenging here because a.) we are out of our comfort zone, aka away from America and loved ones and b.) because this country only seeks temporary solutions to its problems, never prevention. The road ahead is harder. Heart and mind with Austin.

I miss all of you a lot, and wish you were all surrounding me right now.

Yamila جميلة

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

ام الدنيا Mother of the World

Habibis! Izzayakou? Wahashtoonee.

I spent last weekend in Cairo, also just called Egypt, or the Mother of the World. The trip was a little too boggled to be able to do the ancient city justice, but I of course must share. Cairo is hard to wrap your mind around. It's huge, both geographically (it took us over an hour to drive across it) and population-wise (20 million), so it's just hard to conceptualize in words, or even feelings. Its many neighborhoods, each with a story, dialect, and stench, don't seem to form one city. I didn't like that; even in New York, where each neighborhood has a distinct character, it feels like one city. There is just so damn much to see in Cairo that it's a little overwhelming, I guess, especially topped off with the smog that makes your boogers black, the trash and crowds lining the street, and the scantily-clad foreigners. I have to admit that I welcomed Alex's peaceful confidence upon returning.

The first day, I went to the pyramids with my team, which included our Egyptian driver and good friend Karim, and my girls Amanda and Chelsea from Middlebury. The pyramids are as magnificent as you imagine, I promise. Nothing could detract from their glory. I kept imagining Africans in the Pharaonic times piling those ginormous stones on their backs and lumbering higher and higher until before them loomed a masterpiece. Standing on the base of one of them was a surreal moment that I am still not sure actually happened.

Then the Egyptian police who get paid to sit on their asses and guard places started yelling at me to get down, then I was offered a ride on a camel named Michael Jordan for "very special price", and then I remembered I was in Egypt in 2009. We saw the sphinx, too, which despite a broken nose, was still wondrous. Everyone I was with was generally in a great mood, how couldn't we have been?!

Then I toured the neighborhood of Zamalek, with its European feels and many foreign consulates. Hip neighborhood, don't know much about it. Then I went off to watch the sunset on the River Nile... no big deal. For 7 guinea each, my closest friends and I sat on pillows on a felucca on the sooty river, with the pollution mixing with florescents to give us a show for the end of the day. And I fell more in love with Egypt.
Then followed dinner at a stellar Lebanese restaurant. As long as it's not at my dorm, I love eating in this country. Tablespread of appetizers, hummus, falafel, tabouleh, baba genoug, pita, other things I can't name, and just arms reaching, mouths stuffing, MMMM!!

My only other legitimate cultural experience for the next two days was a visit to the old souk Khan al-Khalili, with narrow alleyways of shops and their keepers yelling "Kashmir scarf, you look Egyptian, you want to buy?!" It felt very authentic, especially after eating hemmem, a little pigeon stuffed with rice.

What did I do for the rest of the time? Let's just say it included clubs called Latex and Ritmo, techno, beer, smoke, Egyptian party boys, drunk Egyptian party boy getting hit by car, third-world hospitals, and sleeping. Needless to say, I need to return to Cairo to taste more of its cultural and religious flavor, get a better feel for its people and attitude, and maybe hit up one more club (what, it's hard to party in a Muslim country!)

Pictures:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2027453&id=1238610154&l=e524c6d379

Meanwhile, I continue to be outrageously happy in general. It is fascinating to mix my intellectual curiosity with my personal/emotional experiences here. I am stimulated daily by conversations in Arabic about gender relations and Islam here. I laugh every day with the loving people around me who I am smitten with, or at the ridiculous paradoxes sometimes found here. I am about to get on a 9-hour busride that will leave me in the Siwa Oasis on the Libyan border for 2 days. More to come about that, as well as a more serious post about being a woman here.

Get your passports and wallets out, and come be with me. Yullah!

مشي، مع سلامة
Yamila جميلة

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pictures, Fotos, صور

Check this link for the most recent photos from my Egyptian cooking class and day at the citadel:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2026287&id=1238610154&l=22152ac070

Check this link for photos from the beginning of my time in Alex and our trip to Sinai:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2025421&id=1238610154&l=5fe05eaf23

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mabsoota Owee


Amidst a sort of "angsty" time here in Egypt, I had a great day yesterday. I am in the awkward phase right after being ecstatic to get here and right before feeling comfortable living here. It's most frequent thoughts are "What do I do with myself now?" and "Oh, I'm in Egypt." Degrees of homesickness and tears vary depending on if I have enough cell phone credit to hear Papi's voice on the answering machine, or if I'm watching Finding Nemo. So yesterday, I woke up in my crater-like bed after an emotional night. The day would heal, الحمد لله al-hamdu-lillah.

I took the tram a few stops to Ibrahimiyya, a neighborhood full of shops and souks. Elley (my new friend from Tufts) and I perused the shops, and I brought a pair of sandals from a man who proudly told us he'd been smoking cigarettes for 50 years. I guess if you're a Muslim with no sex and alcohol, you gotta have one vice, right?

After shopping, plenty of stares, and a 30-cent tram tride, we met up with a group of friends back at the Medina, the student housing complex. This group included myself, Elley, our sweet حلو friends Molly, Abe, and Chelsea from Middlebury, Chelsea's parents, "Doctor" Mata, an American studying here, and Karim, our Egyptian friend. It has become a theme for our group to pile anywhere from 6-9 people in Karim's car while listening to techno at outrageous decibels, so we did just that all the way to the Citadel, the fortress on the tip of the Corniche guarding the city. It was built by a Mamluk named Qaitbay, and has weathered many a storm, unlike its former neighbor, the Pharos lighthouse, one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
It is mostly just cool for its stature; there's not much inside of it. It officially closed before we had the chance to walk the ramparts, so we pretended to be foolish tourists who didn't know any better. This ended up paying off, as we sweet talked/bribed some policemen to let us tour the outside. Ah, the (occasional) joys of corruption and selfishness. Anyway, that was a humorous treat, and the view of Alex and el-bahr (the sea) was well worth it.

We then sat on the water in a nearby cafe, looking out at the fleet of fishing ships and the pink hue of the sky over the citadel. Dinner was next. And how interesting it was! Karim exchanged words with the waiter, and after some initial confusion, we were led to a room to "choose our dinner". Eating fish in Egypt!! I was prepared for my experience this time and was grossly curious about the array of dead fish, crabs and squid laid before us. We decided on 2 large fish, who looked pretty displeased with the whole situation, and then we ate them. They were damn good, in fact, the best fish I've ever had. I share with you Fish #1 cooked, but check Facebook for more graphic photos.
After dinner, we ditched the rents and headed to The Mermaid, one of the few places where it is appropriate for sexes to mingle, alcohol to be drank, and booties to be shaken. And we did all of those things, almost all 35 of us from the program. There were a bunch of our Egyptian friends with us, too, and it was amusing to show them that youthful and lusty side of American culture. We laughed and sweated hard. It was a perfect end to an extremely pleasing day.

Today, I woke up with a sore back, and 24 pages of reading about Islam's clash with modernity. In Arabic. FML. 12 hours later, my back still hurts, and 5 pages of laborious reading have made my brain like the mush we eat in the dorm's cafeteria. لكن بكرة يوم جديد But tomorrow is a new day, lekin bukra yowm gadeed.

و انا في مصر. And I'm in Egypt. Ana fee Masr.

جميلة Yamila/Gameela

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sinai

Welcome to Egypt! مرحبا Let me take you on a 12-hour bus ride from Alex to the tip of the Sinai Peninsula.

Dahab, a touristy yet real town on the southeastern side of the Sinai Peninsula, is easily one of the coolest places I have ever been. Its natural beauty comes in a close second to that of my favorite place in the world, la Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico. The water has the same gradients of blue, starting at an almost transparent sea green, moving to pure sky blue, and ending in deep navy jean. The difference between Dahab and Puerto Rico lies in the mountains... Sinai's are fierce and menacing stone giants with a rugged kind of charm. Saudia Arabia's similar peaks stand out on clear days across the Gulf of Aquba... I swear I could see Mecca. But IMAGINE. Sinai, land of The Book, with the azure ocean all around, and Muhammad's holy land gazing over at us. Here:

Naturally, I rented snorkeling equipment the first day and dove right in. The water's color was just as rich below. I wish you could have been there, Papi and Diego. We also took a day trip to Ras Muhammad, a national park at the tip of the peninsula with outstanding snorkeling. We swam among fish as one of them, and when the strong sun penetrated the surface, they glittered and rainbow sequins appeared all around. The reef was a gem, although its endless depths were slightly unsettling. I also accumulated a solid rock/shell collection while walking around the crustacean formations 1000s of years old (I truly felt like my father's daughter).

Nights in Dahab were spent along its boardwalk in any of the numerous restaurants, bars and shopping stalls, eating and drinking with the sound of the waves crashing, the gusty wind at our hair, and the twinkling lights of Saudiyya off in the distance. I truly got to know and enjoy the other students in my program, as we broke pledge and spoke English a lot, laughed a ton, and searched high and wide for dance clubs. Yes, it can be appropriate to dance in Egypt in public, and yes, we showed up at clubs, started dance parties and danced on tables. Sometimes it's okay to obviously be American.

One day, we set off in land cruisers with 3 Bedouin guides, and they took us off-road into the desert. Remember what I said about how Egyptians drive? Oh, they are just as MAD in the desert with no traction, dunes and rocks. Needless to say, I saw my life flash before my eyes a couple times, but it was worth it for the canyons they introduced us to:
First we saw the Colored Canyon. The swirl of ancient sand and water was gorgeous beneath the relentless sun. We trekked for over an hour, then stopped at a Bedouin rest stop for tea, by which I mean thatched roof over mats and camels lazing nearby. Legit. We were then taken to the White Canyon. I have no other word for the place except Biblical. I could see the devout nomads tiredly walking between these canyons, their prayers reverberating off the boundless stone. I also finally understood the meaning of Oasis, as the sight of one at the end of the canyon was incredibly welcoming. We ate lunch in the Bedouin village there, playing cards with their children, and being offered sips of their salty water from way underground. Real World Egypt, baby.

The night before our departure, we began our ascent up Gebel Mousa جبل موسة, or Mount Sinai, at 1am. I had no vision of where I was going. Every few minutes, I would hear "Gamel? Gamel?" and suddenly a ginormous camel would saunter out of the dark, and we would all cower toward the edge of the cliff to avoid his lunging hooves and spit. I think I have camel-phobia now. I have possibly never seen as many stars. They dotted the sky magnificently, and I could have looked at them forever had my road to the top been less treacherous. The hike was exhausting, and I have no idea how Moses did all that, then received the 10 Commandments from God. Hardcore, beghed, seriously. We shivered at the top for an hour with a horde of other climbers, until finally the sun began to paint colors across the peaks. A hush fell over the pilgrims, and I could feel the solidarity in my heart. Awe as the sun broke across the jagged and holy land. What an experience.
Now, here I am back in Alex, with an even greater love for the country of Egypt. Yesterday I went bowling with the group, today I went to their version of Wal-Mart, a "hypermarket" called Carefour. I also (somewhat proudly) confess that I went to H & M and Starbucks. I am often amused at how American my habits are, and I don't really care - I just remember that I'm lucky. Classes have started rolling, some of them I enjoy, some of them I am annoyed with the pace. My learning takes place mostly outside the university, where I work on my Amiyya, and frustration has subsided in the last day or two. Some of the American students are frustrated with certain aspects of the program and life here, but I am very much at peace. Of course, I have my moments of GAH, but all in all, I have never felt more in the moment of my life. And that is one of the best feelings in the world.

Here is a link to some photos thus far, they really tell the story, so enjoy:

Every day I wish you could all be here with me on my adventures.

Love from Egypt, مصر

Yamila جميلة


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

5-Year-Old Arab Child

عامل ايه? What's up, my friends? Salaam min Masr.

I miss English. Not so much English, just being able to express myself! It is incredibly difficult for me, since I love expressing myself with words (as you most likely know), and here, I am generally unable to do so past the level of a 5-year-old. Sample conversation with a fellow confused American student:

Me: Do you want to swim with me?
Them: Have I become you? Huh?
Me: No, do you want to swim in the ocean with me? *Frantic hand-waving motions*
Them: Ooohhh! No, I do not like to swim.

In all seriousness though, the Language Pledge is hands down the most frustrating part of being here. In English and Spanish, I am talkative, intelligent and respectful (and modest). I say things when I feel them, the way I mean them. I am articulate both academically and interpersonally. I know how to respect my elders by saying the right thing. Last week, I sat through 2 hours of a class about Arabic Literature, and I understood maybe 10% of it. I then proceeded to meet with 2 incredible professors to whom I was incapable of conveying my true admiration and sentiments because of my language barrier. GGGGRRRRRRRR!!

Additionally, it limits my attempts to make friends with the other American students, as we can only talk about whether we like to swim or not. We just got back from a mini-vacation together, and we spoke English a lot of the time (sssshhhh, don't tell!), and now I feel like I know them better. I was talking to a friend here about the notion that the language you learn to express yourself in as a child becomes part of your personality, since it is the channel for emotions, interactions and learning in all forms. I am learning that now.

Although I sound pessimistic here, I also have patient faith that my Arabic will get better! It already is - communication with my Egyptian roommates and haggling vendors has been successful of late! I will do my best to adhere to the Language Pledge, and I will do what I came here to do: come back to the States an awesome Arabic speaker. There is truly a special corner in my heart for this language: it is eloquent without trying, rough on the edges but romantic inside, lyrical and rhythmic, all at the same time. Just keep in mind when you talk to me, that English and Español is música to my ears.

As Kislaya reminded me: Growth is always momentarily uncomfortable.

More to come shortly about my adventures in Sinai, including snorkeling in the Red Sea, clubbing to Arabic techno, hiking canyons with Bedouins, and watching the sun rise on Mt. Sinai with Moses.

Un montón de besos y abrazos a todos,

Yamila جميلة