Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
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
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
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.
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
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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.
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.