Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Best Place in the World...

...BUT, before I get there, let's talk about a few other things, shall we? :)

I'm doing laundry this morning in preparation for homestays that start tomorrow. Doing said laundry here in Egypt makes me so much more appreciative for the washing machine and dryer that I have at home. Whereas at home all I would have to do is turn the machine on to start the water, throw my clothes in, and add some soap; here I have to use a hose to run water from the bathroom sink into the washing machine for the wash cycle, throw my clothes and soap in, wait 10 minutes or so, drain the machine manually (another hose that hooks up to the drain on the floor--I'll take a picture sometime), refill the machine with aforementioned hose for the rinse cycle, wait another 10 minutes or so, drain the machine manuallly again, then switch the clothes in the washing machine half to the spinner half. Now, the spinner is significantly smaller than the washer, so basically, one load of clothes turns into about 3-ish loads in the spinner. Then after that, I hang all the clothes on a drying rack. Thankfully, here in Cairo, clothes dry much, much faster than in the states.

Anyway, homestays are next week, so I really won't be on the internet at all. Everyday after classes finish, I will leave almost immediately from the Villa to take a taxi/the Metro/a microbus to my homestay family. This family will be Muslim, and likely as not will speak very little English (the perfect opportunity to practice my minimal Arabic). I'm looking forward to the experience of feeling like a part of an Egyptian family, but I'm pretty nervous, too.

The results of the Zamalek football match: Zamalek lost 0-1 (which apparently isn't much of a surprise here). However, I had a great time with all of the other students and one of our Egyptian friends at the match. Many of us bought Zamalek flags (pretty cheap looking and 10 LE -- the tickets themselves were 15 LE) and waved them around during the game. To get to the game, though, we took a bus, and a bus full of white North Americans and one Egyptian looks a little suspicious to the police, so we ended up being quite protected. We even left the match a good 30 seconds or so before the end... Hopefully later on in the semester, though, we'll get a chance to go to an Ahly or an Egypt match...that would be sweet! :)


Ok. The best place on earth...(drumroll, please!)...Anafora. We went there yesterday for our meeting with Coptic youth (my Egyptian friend was unable to come--it was sad), and it's really hard to describe. The place serves as a retreat center for Christians (run by the Coptic church, but available to someone of any background) and is also a sustainable farm. They make their own soaps, olive oil, pesto/misto, dried herbs for teas and things, knitted items, the rugs and blankets of the kind that we have in the Villa on the roof and that are found all over...they're pretty sweet. I plan to lay out my living room like that when I have one. :)

Being a farm, the scenery is much more green than most of the rest of Egypt. We saw many fields and orchards--even orange trees! There is also a small canal system that runs around the building were we were for most of the day. I can't really compare it to anything I've seen before...we saw the stars, and the silence was heavenly.

We also met with Bishop Thomas (one of the Coptic bishops who founded Anafora) who is one of the most amazing Christian people I've ever met. We also spend most of the day in conversation with Coptic youth about their church and traditions, and the differences between their church and our church. Before we left, though, we had a praise and worship service and a Coptic prayer service in the Anafora chapel (which is one of the most beautiful chapels I have ever seen). The floor is made up of the rugs that I mentioned earlier, as are the pillows that we sat on, and the whole chapel was filled with candles... Again, it's hard to describe if you haven't been there, but the beauty of the place and the beauty of worshiping beyond doctrinal issues was wonderful and amazing. I hope you all can see this place someday... :)

Today, though, we're meeting with people from Islam Online and going bowling with some of our Egyptian friends. No real weekend for us this week...or next week either...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts and Impressions

It's been an eventful, but great week in Cairo. It's hard to believe that I've only known these people for a month -- it feels like we've been a group for a lot longer than that.

Sunday and Monday were class days, so I had a lot of reading due for my Islam and Peoples and Cultures classes, and plenty of work for my Arabic class, too. I knew going in that living cross culturally would be a good experience for me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I'm not the "over-achiever" anymore. Meaning -- at home, people will come to me for study help and proofreading papers and such, but here, I'm the one asking for help and advice. The other MESPers are incredibly smart and talented people and it's been good for me to be able to get another perspective.

My service project has also been a wonderful experience for me. I teach ESL conversation classes on Tuesday nights to the people at Refuge Egypt. The classes are mostly comprised of Sudanese refugees, but there are also people from Eritrea, Somalia, and other countries in Africa that are experiencing conflict. I team teach the classes with three other MESPers, and the service project has also been a time to get to know them better, too.

Ramadan is over now. Yesterday was a holiday (Eid-al-Fitr) to celebrate the end of Ramadan. I had to go out to buy water, and I was a little shocked when none of the vendors that are usually around were there (I wanted to buy some aish (bread), but the lady I usually buy from wasn't out.). There were, however, small children riding horses in the streets and a man with an air horn carrying (what appeared to be) cotton candy on a pole... When I got to the store, I was able to have my first fully Arabic conversation. :) It was short, but I felt very empowered.

When I got back to the flat, my flatmates and I decided to order pizza. I ended up making the phone call and spent 20 minutes on the phone trying to communicate (in English -- my Arabic isn't that good) with the lady on the other end of the line... All became well, though, and we got our Papa John's pizza within a half hour. :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mount Sinai and Dahab

Last weekend the program went to Mount Sinai and Dahab. It was a long bus ride to Sinai (7 hours through the night), but climbing Sinai to see the sunrise was an amazing experience. We saw the burning bush at St. Katherine's Monastery...complete with fire extinguisher! It was an incredibly long day, but Dahab was beautiful. It's a resort town that caters to backpackers and is on the Gulf of Aquaba (the Red Sea). From the beach, we could see the shoreline of Saudi Arabia, and at night, we could see lights from one of the towns.

While we were at Dahab, we also went snorkeling at a place called The Blue Hole, which is supposedly only second to the snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. The reef was pretty sweet and I saw some cool fist -- it was also weird to see scuba divers beneath me... Dahab itself is a pretty relaxed place. We got to swim and eat, swim and eat, and swim and eat some more. People were saying that it would be a good place for a honeymoon, and I think I would have to agree.

Today we had Arabic again (Yes, class on a Sunday. Church is on Fridays.) and we also heard from Hossam Bagehat who works for a human rights group based in Cairo. What he had to say was really interesting and I'm looking forward to being able to hear more on the subject. It's been nice to have a free night, though. So far we've only had one or five of us girls got a taxi and went to McDonald's for internet.

This weekend is the Luxor trip. Hopefully all will go well!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Classes Have Begun

Cairo is a bit different when you can't spend all of your time wandering through the streets and learning your way around. I now have homework... :(

Arabic class started last week and I have to say that I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed. I've really enjoyed getting a chance to learn, but it is going to take some time and effort to be able to communicate and read effectively in the language...probably more time than I'll have this semester...

My first service project was also this week. I taught English at a place called Refuge Egypt which is a place for refugees to go. The classes that I'm teaching are conversation classes on Tuesday nights from 4:30-8. The students are very nice and I'm looking forward to being able to communicate with them more as the weeks progress. They also have a very nice gift shop, so I'll be checking that out, too.

This weekend we'll be heading to Mt. Sinai and Dahab (where I might be snokeling in the Red Sea--how cool is that?). Having a free weekend in Cairo has been nice, but it'll be good to get out of polluted Cairo for awhile and see different parts of Egypt, too.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict has already "poisoned" our semester... We've already discussed it several times, and I can foresee some of us getting into heated debates over it. So far, the MESPers have been an amazing community, and hopefully that can continue despite our differences of opinion.