Hey look! You can see my name listed as a contributor to the biographical dictionary on the Egyptian Revolution! For a course entitled Isqat al-Nizam (essentially, “removal/overthrow the regime”), I wrote three entries for political candidates in the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt. =)
I wrote the entries for:
Of course, brief portions have been edited as candidates dropped out or platforms changed; but for the most part, it is my writing. =)
It’s still so strange to think my Egypt experience began more than a year ago.
I just presented my story at LEPOCO in Bethlehem last night. I was happy to see a decent number of people come out. A bit of a strange crowd, but at least they were fascinated with my experience.
Prior to last night, it had actually been a while since I talked about the revolution outside of an academic setting. Sometimes I get bored telling the same stories over and over again. But lately I’ve just been missing Egypt. Though I’m not particularly fond of the smell of cigarette smoke, every whiff I catch anymore makes me miss the grainy, smoke-filled air of Cairo.
Inshallah, I will return soon.
Above is the link to watch the BCTV program Travel Talk (filmed live) that I appeared on where I was able to share my stories of Egypt. 08/11/2011
It is 105 degrees right now, and with no air-conditioning, there is not much else to do but sit here and sweat. Should have sucked it up and gone to Dahab this morning.
After having said goodbye to my best friend here this morning, in addition to all the other goodbyes I have had to say lately, I do realize that this experience has to come to an end sometime. I tried to make it last as long as I could, but we all have to go home at some point. It will be my turn in less than a two and a half weeks. While many of my closest friends are now gone, I will make the most of my remaining time here until I return to my life in Pennsylvania where I will spend the rest of the summer working and preparing for my final year at Muhlenberg.
All I keep telling myself is that I will be back to Cairo next summer. I will just have to learn to be patient enough to wait for that time to come. In the meantime, I will just dream of having enough money to visit all my Egypt friends that are spread not only across the United States, but also across much of the rest of the world. Love you all. <3
Trips Outside of Cairo - Part 2
Fayoum Oasis (Lake and Temple)
During Orientation Week at AUC (the first week of the revolution), a lot of group trips were advertised to various places around and outside of Cairo. I had signed up for a few of them, including a trip to Fayoum Oasis, approximately 100 km southwest of Cairo. When the revolution escalated and the vast majority of study abroad students evacuated the country, all of these trips were cancelled and those who had signed up for such trips were refunded. I was so disappointed to miss out on the trip to Fayoum. The pictures looked so neat. There are various pyramids, temples, a lake, and two valleys boasting beautiful deserts, ancient whalebones, waterfalls, and lots of wildlife. One night while just sitting around the apartment, Penelope and I decided to just pick up and go to the oasis the next morning.
The next morning we woke up early and set out for the bus station in Ramses Square. We wandered around in the heat for a bit before we finally found the buses headed for Fayoum. With two entirely melted chocolate bars, water bottles, and the Lonely Planet Egypt guide, we were on our way to Fayoum. The microbus drove the 100 km (give or take) down to Fayoum, mostly passing through barren deserts and nothingness. I cannot recall how long it took to get there exactly, but I will give a potentially poor estimate of about an hour or so.
We were dropped off on the side of a road in front of a clump of taxis just waiting to take our money. No one seemed to be able to speak English, posing a problem for us. I may speak some Arabic, but I just could not speak enough to get through to these people. After pointing to the places we wanted to go in the guidebook, we finally got a cab driver who would take us to Lake Qarun. Evidently, none of the sites are actually located in the town of Fayoum, but rather you have to travel 8 to 50+ km to get to any one of them. Somewhere along the way to Lake Qarun, our driver picked up a random man who spent the remainder of the car ride staring at Penelope and I in the backseat. After spending a frustrating 45 minutes or so in a taxi to Lake Qarun, arguing with two men who understand no English, we finally got to see it. We snapped a few pictures before getting back into the cab. The driver kept asking if we wanted to go down into the water for a swim, which I repeatedly refused and requested that he simply take us to the closest hotel in hopes we could find someone who spoke English enough so to help us get where we wanted to go next.
We finally arrived at one of the only two hotels in the area. Luckily the staff did speak enough English to help us. Our cab driver insisted that we pay him something upwards of 150 LE for the cab ride. Penelope and I were shocked, considering the man agreed to take us to the lake for 20 LE. The receptionist explained that we had been in the cab for 3 hours and thus owed the driver more money. This was absurd. We were in the cab for 45 minutes, perhaps an hour at most. We had only gotten into Fayoum an hour before getting to the hotel. We ended up overpaying the taxi driver by a good bit just to get him to leave. This left us stranded at the hotel because no taxis drive out to the area. I realized that Fayoum was not a popular tourist area, but I did not realize how vacant it would actually be. The receptionist called a driver for us. We then sat in the lobby of the hotel for an hour, waiting for the driver to arrive. By the time he got there, it was just a few short hours before all sites in Fayoum would be closed. All of the temples and pyramids close at 4 pm. We knew at this point that the temple we were headed to would be the only site we would see in Fayoum, at least this time around.
Our driver pulled up with his car and we set off for a temple a few kilometers down the road. This driver was fairly friendly, but had a creepy voice to say the least. He told us his name was Robby, as he proceeded to speed over a speed bump. Not only was it scary, but quite painful as well. After a while of cruising down small poverty-stricken villages with piles and piles of onions lining the streets, we finally made it to the temple. We were the only people there, just me, Penelope, Robby, and some man in a galabeya. The man showed us around all of the cool secret rooms, underground, upstairs, and on top of the temple. There were tons of bats flying everywhere. The floors boasted lots of square holes that led to far down pits within and under the temple. We joked around about our Indiana Jones adventures throughout the temple before we finally headed out. Despite not getting to see the Valley of the Whales, the pyramids, or any of the other sites we did not realize were so far away, I still think we had a great time exploring this one temple.
Afterwards, we headed back to the bus stop to catch a microbus back to Cairo – or so we thought. Robby assured us that microbuses were not safe for female travelers and insisted that he drive us back to Cairo himself. He explained that microbuses are filled with shady men who will harm us. We attempted to make him understand that we took a microbus from Cairo to Fayoum and experienced no problems whatsoever. We merely wanted to take the 10 LE ride in the microbus back to Cairo, rather than pay 50+ LE for him to do so for us. We eventually agreed on letting him take us back for a small price cut. On the way back to the city, we again passed through the same kinds of villages with crumbling buildings, piles of onions, and raggedly dressed children running in the streets. There is strangely something beautiful to me about such impoverished areas, yet it is too sad, depressing, and wrong for me to bring myself to take pictures of such a life.
We were making steady progress toward Cairo, but once it started down pouring – leaving the roads flooded – Robby turned around to take us back to the microbus station. I was growing concerned because it was growing near 7 pm, when the microbuses stop running to Cairo. Finally, he turned around once more and headed back to Cairo. I was so confused as to what was going on, I had to ask to make sure we were really going back to Cairo. He assured us that he was driving us back, so I attempted to relax. I was cheered up a bit after seeing a DOUBLE RAINBOW! Yep, a legitimate double rainbow all the way across the sky. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of it. Oh, well.
At some point Robby put Penelope on the phone with one of his “friends”. This man was asking to stay at our apartment with us, to have a party and drink with us, to bring three friends with him, and asked if we wanted Egyptian boyfriends. We repeatedly explained that we do not want Egyptian boyfriends and that we cannot have male visitors at our apartment (despite this actually being a lie). We were so creeped out that we eventually gave the phone away. Robby claimed that this man was actually not his friend but he had us talk to him merely because the man spoke English. Annoyed, frustrated, and a bit uneasy about our trip back, we tried to just relax and get some rest. I could not believe that Robby was concerned about our safety around creepy men on a microbus when he himself – not to mention his friend on the phone, too – was absolutely one of the creepiest men I ever had the displeasure of being trapped in a car with.
Finally we were dropped off somewhere in downtown Giza, I think. We found a cab driver to take us back to Zamalek. I was infinitely happier once I was out of Robby’s company, particularly because he very infrequently remained quiet on the ride home and his voice itself is far from tolerable.
"Dr. Hanna was a midlevel conservator in the Supreme Council of Antiquities when he got drawn into the youth movement for change in the years before the revolution. Like everyone I met who was part of the leadership, he was so consumed by its passions that it had altered his identity and sense of self. During the peak of the revolution, he spent a week at a time in Tahrir, without going home to visit his wife or three young children, who were three, eleven, and twelve. When I asked him why, he said, "Because I’m a martyr."
"What does that mean?"
"It means since I left home for the revolution, I - and my family - consider myself a dead person. I can be killed at any time. Because I was one of the key people who organized the revolution, I would be among the first to be killed if it failed."
"Why not go home and live your life?"
"Because we started something. And I am not the kind of person who starts something and stops before completing it.""
— Bruce Feiler, Generation Freedom
Keep the revolution alive; keep raising your head. You are Egyptian.
Email from AUC last year:
As you might have heard there are rumours that demonstrations might be organized at different locations in Cairo on January 25th. While there are no official warnings issued by the government regarding this issue, please be alert to that possibility and avoid large gatherings on that day.
And this year :)
The university will be officially closed on Wednesday January 25, 2012 on the occasion of National Day of the Revolution.
Wishing you all a happy holiday.
Ashraf El Fiqi
VP for Student Affairs
Borrowed from Jamila Boudlali
After living 6000 miles away, I’ve spent the past 5 months gaining incredible life experiences and crossing a number of items off of my bucket list. By the time I return to the States, I’ll have been in 7 countries across 4 continents just since January. I’ve now been on both sides of the equator, camped in the desert, slept under the Milky Way by Mt. Kilimanjaro, partied on the Nile, climbed the pyramids, experienced a revolution… the list goes on.
The past 5+ months have certainly been the most fulfilling, educational, and eye-opening months of my life. I don’t know if I can say I’ve ever truly had a bad day here. Unfortunately my life in Egypt comes to an (temporary) end in less than 24 hours. Tomorrow afternoon I will be on my way to Abu Dhabi for the night, flying out to JFK the next morning. I’ll be back in Gilbertsville, PA later Monday evening. I may be reluctant to go back to the States, but I know I’ll be coming home (to Cairo) again in less than a year for a much longer stay. For now I’ll live out my last day in Cairo blasting 90s music, denying the fact that packing still needs take place.
Wow. Time really flies.
I recall how slowly time seemed to pass back in late January and through February. I felt like I had known my new friends forever, when in reality only one short week and a half had passed before they all evacuated due to the revolution. After these new friends left, time seemed to stand still. Classes seemed no closer to starting and my future in Egypt was uncertain. I myself finally left and stayed in Turkey for just a few days, which actually felt like an eternity. Even after I returned to Egypt, the semester seemed to be passing by slowly, or perhaps at a relatively normal pace.
Soon enough Spring Break was just around the corner and I could not believe it was nearing the end of April. Once I had returned from my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I realized I only had one month left of school. I did not think much of it until I realized I was done and most of my friends were soon leaving. Thinking back on it, I have been done with all of my classes and finals for two weeks already. That means that just a few days shy of two weeks ago, many of my friends left the country to go back to their homes. One of my best friends here left a week ago today, sharing the same one week anniversary with the day I moved into my new apartment. Now only a few days remain before another one of my best friends - one that I spent the vast majority of my time with - will leave, as well. The thought of this incredible experience - shared with these amazing people - coming to an end just saddens me a lot. It is hard for me to believe that this unique experience - that is, studying abroad in Egypt during a revolution with the few international students that remained - will soon be over and never again will all these people be in the same place, at the same time, under the same circumstances.
With only a few short weeks left in this country myself, I certainly need to make the most of it, starting with a relaxing getaway to Dahab for the weekend. =)
Trips Outside of Cairo
After spending eleven days in Kenya and Tanzania, only to come back to Cairo for a pointless day of midterms and papers, we were given another three days off. I spent one of these nights enjoying a deliciously authentic Mexican dinner, somehow leading me to make a spontaneous decision to spend a couple of days in Alexandria beginning the next morning. I gave my bus ticket money to a new friend, Hady, and made my way to Moe’s apartment for yet another party. I stayed much longer than I should have, particularly considering that I needed to sleep and pack for a weekend in Alex. On just two hours of sleep, I woke up in time to shower quickly and gather my things for the weekend.
I was supposed to call my friend Cody after showering, but had no success in reaching him. I grew worried because I already paid for his bus ticket and did not want to leave without making sure my money did not go to waste. After repeated failures I had to leave to meet up with my friends Ghazala and Ehab down by their apartment. Finally I got a hold of Cody, encouraging him to hurry his ass up because we needed to leave soon. Ghazala, Ehab, and I stopped by the ATM and grabbed some breakfast as we waited for Cody to catch up. Finally, a bit behind schedule, we were in a taxi and on our way to the bus station.
The taxi ride was not unlike any other until the driver received a phone call. He was exclaiming loudly in Arabic and began crying what appeared to be tears of joy. Strangely, our first inclination was to assume that Mubarak had somehow died or something else great for Egypt had occurred. Rather, what had actually happened was the birth of his first son. He explained that he had two daughters already but had been praying for a son (typical…). He proceeded to crank up the music and celebrate for the remainder of our drive to the bus station.
We rode a microbus from Ramses Square in downtown Cairo to Alexandria, reserving a few extra seats to give us some space to spread out with our things. I know I was for sure passed out for the majority of the two-hour ride to Alex due to my lack of sleep the night before. Soon enough we arrived and walked around seemingly aimlessly until we finally found a place to eat. I downed some sort of omelet sandwich and waited anxiously to spend the day napping on a beach, soaking up the sun. Boy, would I be disappointed.
After eating Hady and Ehab went to pray at a mosque in a park with beautiful gardens. While they prayed Ghazala, Cody, and I sat on the beach behind the mosque. Alexandria in general is quite conservative, even more so than Cairo from what I observed. The fact that this beach was right next to a mosque did not help the situation either. All but one man had shirts on and all of the women and girls were swimming either in their clothes or in burqinis (essentially a burqa designed for swimming). I had absolutely no desire to be that one slutty girl in a bikini on this beach, so instead I snapped some pictures and walked around with Ghazala. After Hady and Ehab joined us, we explored a bit more of the area along the Mediterranean. We climbed out on the rocks and watched some young guys climb up these jack-shaped cement structures that protect the walls from the waves. After most of the boys climbed up, we witness two of the less agile boys make their way up with little success. In the end we helped them a bit, but only after having our fair share of giggles as we enjoyed their unintentionally entertaining failures.
After our adventures by the sea, we made our way to the Christian youth hostel (I know, random) where we would spend the night. We settled in a bit before heading out to a seafood restaurant for dinner. This restaurant supposedly serves the best fish in all of Alexandria, though I cannot vouch for this, as I am a vegetarian. I ate mostly side dishes for dinner, such as bread, rice, steamed vegetables, and a plate of spaghetti. All of the food was quite delicious, with the exception of the spaghetti because the little boy at the table next to us decided to make a toy out of my dish, but only after his fat elderly female relatives rubbed their obese behinds through the pasta as they squeezed between our adjacent tables.
After dinner we searched for a place to enjoy coffee and dessert by the sea. We found what I believe was a Spanish place right along the water. The wait was so long that I fell asleep at the table before they led us to our seating. Probably an hour or so later, I was woken up and followed the group to our table outside by the water. The view was indeed beautiful and I suppose it was worth the wait. I enjoyed a nutella cappuccino with a brownie served with ice cream on top. A few others had the same dessert with various other hot drinks. Following a relaxing dessert on the water, we ended our night with a trip to the mall across the street to see a movie. We saw Adjustment Bureau, which was not too bad but certainly a bit cheesy. I found it strange that Egyptian cinemas offer an intermission during the screening. I also forgot how common it is to smoke everywhere and was thus slightly thrown off at first by folks smoking behind us in the theater.
Our ride back to the hotel took an eternity. It had rained a bit while we were watching the movie, and with Egypt’s poor (or lacking) drainage systems, the roads were entirely flooded. You would be surprised to know how flooded roads can get when they lack any type of draining system, even if it only rains a small amount or for a brief period like it occasionally does in parts of Egypt. Traffic was horrible and parts of the roads were so covered in deep water that cars had a difficult time passing. At one point Hady left the cab and ran off. We had no idea where he had gone, but traffic finally started moving and we were worried we lost him. We did find him and apparently what he had done was run up to the construction workers and told them to stop working because they were holding up traffic. Oh, Hady. What a badass.
We were told to be back to the hostel no later than 1 am, but we arrived about half an hour after that due to the traffic and flooded roads. We rang the doorbell and banged on the door with little success. I do not recall how, but eventually we succeeded in getting someone to let us in. We then made our way upstairs and washed up before going to sleep. We were to be out of the hostel by 9 am the next morning because the owners were closing the hostel for some Christian holiday. Let us just say that we failed to wake up in time to be packed and out of the hostel by 9.
I remember turning off my alarm, but I must have fallen back to sleep immediately. I woke up about 10 minutes before 9 and panicked that we needed to be out of this place so soon. I woke Ghazala up and then everyone else and we rushed to get our things together. We made our way downstairs to find no one. Anywhere. Oh, and the door was locked. We were locked in and could not find a single person. I began wondering why these people would have left when they knew we were still in the building. Eventually we found somebody to let us out. We caught a taxi to take us to the train station to buy our tickets. Unfortunately the roads were still flooded, including one road we needed to take that had water deep enough to spill into the car. Our taxi flooded and broke down, leaving us stranded in a large pool of milky brown water filled with all sorts of garbage. Finally, someone in a truck pushed our taxi out and our driver was able to get his car started. We bought our train tickets home and then got some pastries and tea at a café before heading to a private beach where I could lay out comfortably. Well, somewhat comfortably. With only a few others on the beach, it was significantly less awkward to lie on the beach in a bikini.
After a few hours of the relaxation I had been waiting for, we grabbed lunch until it was time to head to the train station. Riding first class is honestly the way to do it. It is the only class that allows mixed gendered cars. So, if you are traveling with mixed genders, definitely make sure to ride first class so you can all sit together. The seats are so comfortable with plenty of legroom and plenty of space to recline the chair without bothering those sitting behind you. Additionally, there is air-conditioning. Definitely an added bonus. Our train departed at 7 pm exactly, returning us to Cairo about half-past 9.