Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cairo Post 7: The "Fun" Has Begun, I Found 24, Egyptian Soccer, "Black Honey", Downtown Cairo and Zumalek

So from reading my posts you know that the first couple of days here in Cairo was spent touring the city and seeing the sights and sounds of this city, and of course one day in Alexandria. Unfortunately though, just as all good things do, the fun has come to an end. I spoke of how difficult the classes were in passing. Well let me just reiterate the fact they are hard. Things are doubly difficult when one has to go from one form of Arabic to another back to back for two consecutive days. My head has been spinning in circles trying to remember when I can say one form of yes and when I can't. The Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) teacher gets slightly annoyed when the class answers his questions in the Egyptian dialect, even though I'm pretty sure he is Egyptian, and the Egyptian dialect teacher (Egyptian Colloquial Arabic or ECA) giggles when her questions are answered with MSA. Don't they understand that this is HARD for us. least my section hasn't been forced to learn the entire Arabic alphabet in 3 days like the beginners have, I guess that's a saving grace of sorts.

The biggest story for me today was that I was finally able to watch the finale of 24. It pained me a lot when I realized that I wouldn't be able to watch the series finale "live" because of the time difference...and of course the lack of Fox on this overwhelmingly Arabic language tv package that the hotel offers. But just being able to find a solid 2 hours of time when I was tired, in class or doing homework, felt heavenly and I greatly enjoyed finally being able to finish one of the most innovative series to every grace the airwaves. Of course watching it wasn't without a little drama as megavideo cut me off at their customary 72 minute limit and I had to scrounge around the internet to find an alternate means of watching, but I was finally successful.

Back to Egyptian things, we got a taste of Egyptians love for soccer today. From around lunch time when my group arrived back at the Metro station that is closest to our hotel and a passing guy yelled at us that he expected his team to win 2-0, to the area police commander that showed up in the hotel lobby tonight to catch the game on tv, Egyptians clearly follow the teams within the league. I couldn't begin to tell you which team won, or where they were from, but I did get to watch the game, and I can tell you that it was entertaining to watch.

Black Honey is the translated name of this movie that a few of us want to go watch while we are here in Egypt. We saw the commercial for it a couple of nights ago during dinner when the tv at the restaurant was on mute and it just looked absolutely hilarious. We have since seen the commercial with sound...and it made very little sense except for a few choice words here and there...but we still want to go see it regardless. 

Yesterday afforded myself, Emily and Sam the opportunity to go into Downtown Cairo with Lucie. We went to the American University in Cairo old campus where Lucie did her intensive Arabic program a couple years back, but the main campus has since moved to the newer campus elsewhere in the city. We also stopped at the AUC bookstore, which was really cool as far as university bookstores go. After that we went to the island of Zumalek, which is smack in the middle of the Nile. Getting over there, the elderly taxi driver we had tried to overcharge us...but coming back, the relatively young driver we had nearly refused to accept our payment. There is no rhyme or reason to it, no way to judge who will be nice and who will try to be a jerk, because I definitely would have pegged the older gentleman to be the nicer one. Indecipherable cabbie behavior aside, I've come to the conclusion that Cairo as a whole really has no rhyme or reason to it, it's just an unabashed city that will do as it pleases, when it pleases. I think I could get used to this...

Thanks for reading!


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Monday, May 24, 2010

Cairo Post 6: The First Couple Days of Class, The Unexpectedly Good Dinner

And so we have completed our second day of classes at the Hedayat Institute. The first day was done a little haphazardly and Group A (the group with Arabic experience) accidentally missed our first elective class, for the record it was not our faults. Things have been hammered out now, like poor Miranda will not have to re-do a whole year of Arabic by being in class with us anymore, and the elective classes and respective schedules have been amended and corrected. So for the most part, it should be smooth sailing from here.
Our first class was basically in Chapter 7 of Al-Kitaab ("the book" literally but its also the name of our textbook) so it the class was on Modern Standard Arabic, which Dr. Nagwa equated to Shakespearean English. Today our class was on the Egyptian Colloquial dialect, and while we have been introduced to it at times in various places and settings, it is going to take some getting used to.

Perhaps the most interesting class that I signed up for is the calligraphy class, it might also very well be the hardest. Getting those shapes and formations down is extremely hard, and for anyone who is familiar with arabic and knows the beautiful writing that can be seen on Qurans and such...imagine trying to write that out by hand. Not easy at all. Hopefully though I can get the hang of it, and not only be able to write it well, but read calligraphy too, because right now calligraphy confuses the hell out of me. Here are some examples of what our teacher did, you can tell the student work because it doesn't look nowhere near as sharp as what the teacher did

Now to jump back for a second, dinner last night was first an adventure, then a pleasant surprise. To understand the adventure part you have to picture the section we are living in, which is called Maadi. Maadi is apparently so notoriously confusing that some taxi drivers won't bring you here if you are coming from somewhere else. There are virtually no street signs, and if there is a sign, you have to venture a good ways down the street in question and probably look on a random building and hope a sign is there. Yesterday was supposed to be a short walk to a Thai restaurant. Our hotel is on the corner of 7th Rd and 82nd St. The grid kind of stays together for a couple blocks, until all of a sudden you're on 127 St, at least going by what the map says. Mind you, you walked 3-4 blocks. I think the Thai place was supposed to be at 7 152nd St. Lucie asked a man where building 7 was, he proceeded to say he didn't know the numbers but that he thought the building behind us was 15, the building across the street was 9, next to it 17...I'm learning that Egyptians are worse at admitting they don't know something. After walking around, and passing through "the hood" as some people labelled it, we gave up and went to where we knew a restaurant was.

The restaurant we ended up going to has been labelled as the best Asian style food in Maadi, and man was that correct. We almost got scared off though because there was not a soul in the place other than the waiter guy and the cooks. But once we actually got our food, and our beer, we didn't care anymore, mainly because it was just so damn good. To date, that was probably the best overall dinner we had because it was just a laugh fest, with good food and great company. If something can top that dinner, I think I might just have to move here. JUST KIDDING!

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cairo Post 5: Memphis, Sakkara (Saqqara), Giza, Shisha Dinner, Alexandria, The Mohammed's We've Met

Again, I just want to apologize for last night. I came in from dinner and was just absolutely dead. But back to the beginning of things, I will most definitely touch on dinner later, yesterday we had a tour of sights that were relatively close to Cairo, our first stop being Memphis. Memphis was an old capital of unified Egypt so that neither Upper (Southern) or Lower (Northern) Egypt felt slighted by the King, who I believe was Menes at the time, and continued to be a capital city through 2200 B.C. There we saw our first sphinx, or sphinxis as our guide kept calling it, amongst the other artifacts that were at the site.

Our next stop yesterday was Sakkara or Saqqara where the first pyramid was built, the Step Pyramid. It was really interesting to see how the trend started and to hear that was originally because they just kept adding additional places above the foundation, like offering rooms. We were told that there are 112 pyramids standing in Egypt, out of the 139 that were known to have been made. For the original one to be standing now is something that I find quite amazing. Even a part of the original wall, its the picture of the wall that looks like it just comes from nowhere, is still standing after nearly 5000 years, truly amazing. We didn't get to go into the Step Pyramid, but we did go into one that was a short drive away. I didn't take any pictures in it because I didn't really feel like tipping the "guide" guy, but some other people did. I'll share them on my facebook profile when they put them up. Sakkara was also the place that either myself or Gravy was called Barack Obama, we're not sure, and Gravy was called Muhammed Ali. Needless to say we discovered the hawkers at sites are relentless, and sometimes funny.

After leaving Sakkara we made a stop at one of the many Carpet Schools that lined the road...this actually may have been after leaving Memphis, but I can't really remember at the moment. In any case we went, and there we saw these beautiful carpets being made by these kids that were probably 2-3 years younger than us. There was one older man making a carpet "from his mind" as the carpet school guy told us, but he was the only older gentleman that I saw. We went upstairs to see the finished products, and my goodness their work is really beautiful...albeit quite pricey.

Of course the day of sites ended yesterday with the great pyramids of Giza. Contrary to popular belief there are 9 pyramids at the site, there are just 3 really big ones that everyone knows are there. They are impressive as you think they would be. I really felt like a tiny pion standing in front of them, and even smaller when we climbed up to the entrance. We didn't go in because we have been told by numerous sources that it just isn't worth the price, but just being there and standing on it was cool enough. Of course there are other things to do at Giza, and most of the group rode camels down from this place called Panaroma, where you can take a good picture of the 3 main pyramids, down to the smaller of the 3 great pyramids.

Dinner last night was had at this nice place just around the corner and down a block from our hotel. I had this chicken dish that was covered in walnut sauce that was really good. The dessert I had was this custard thing that I didn't enjoy much. But what made the night alright was the grape shisha that we ordered. I don't remember liking the grape flavor while I was in Saudi, but in Egypt it is quite good and I think its safe to recommend across the board.

And finally to today. Today we went to Alexandria, and upon arriving, after the 3 hours drive, I felt like I was back in Jeddah again. The street we were on was wide and clean and the traffic generally obeyed the lane separation lines, something the Cairo drivers don't really do. We made a few stops on the day, the first being this palace that the Egyptian Kings used to frequent, but is now a spot for President Mubarek. The place is on the Mediterrean coast and while we were there, Emily Seidl and I decided to take the long way back to our bus over this bridge that was along the water. After making it 3/4 quarters of the way across, a wave crashed over the bridge and absolutely soaked us. I still feel salty now. We also had our first realistic Egyptian cuisine when we made a stop at this restaurant and had their fish, which was really good. We also went to an old Roman ampitheatre and experienced how the actors and speakers were able to project their voice by standing in one particular spot within the complex. Probably the most unexpectedly cool stop was the Alexandria library. It is massive and absolutely impressive. The building is in the shape of a huge circle from the outside, and on the inside the floors are situated in this staggered slope pattern that is just unlike any building, let alone library, I've ever seen. I could see myself getting a lot of work done there.

Now of course, I think a lot of people know that there are a lot of people named Muhammed in the world. In our dealings with people, we have had 4, two tour guides, and two security people. The first Muhammed tour guide from yesterday clearly knew a lot but was just a tad bit annoying in his constant talking and flirting with Lucie and Sam :). The second Muhammed tour guide, was great and we hope that we will have again. But the Muhammed's that I really want to talk about are our two security guys. They both looked like linemen, but in their interactions with people clearly were gentle giants...just with semi automatic rifles under their suit jackets. The second guy looked like Secret Service in my opinon and I think the general consensus was that he was the epitome of cool, Gravy called him Shaft.

Well tomorrow we start our classes...can't say that I am that thrilled but it is the reason that we are here.

Once again thanks for reading!


Friday, May 21, 2010

Cairo Post 4...coming tomorrow!

Dear Blog Readers,

I am awfully tired tonight and since we have to get up really early tomorrow anyway, I will combine today and tomorrow into one blog entry tomorrow night. For a quick re-cap we took a guided tour to Memphis, Sakkara (where we made an unscheduled stop at a carpet school, which are quite frequent in Sakkara, and saw carpets being made by hand, very impressive) and then finally to Giza. There are plenty of pictures that will be put up in due time. We also had our first shisha tonight at a restaurant near our hotel. Now that you are vaguely caught up, I'll expand upon all that more tomorrow.

Again, I'm sorry but thank you for reading and goodnight.


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cairo Post 3: Got Lost Tonight...then Breakfast, The Metro, Hedayat Institute, Lunch, Egyptian Phones, Dinner with Leo and Ana

So I started this post earlier today before we went out to dinner, but the story about coming back from dinner is what should really start this out. So myself, Jon Chu, Miranda and Mike M took a cab back from dinner, like everyone else, but once we got into Maadi we thought he was going the wrong way so we decided to hop out before we thought he was going to take us over a bridge. So we paid and started to walk. Turns out we were going the absolute wrong direction and we didn't find out until Miranda asked a lady where 72 St. was. So we doubled back, until we came to a side street and decided to turn left to see if that was the right direction. Of course that too was the wrong turn and after I initially caused a little confusion by asking for 77 St, I corrected myself and we were eventually led by these nice young man (probably my age) back past where we got out of the cab and down the last street before the bridge that we thought the cabbie was going to take us over...oops. So after walking past that spot for another 5 minutes our impromptu guide delivered us to our street, politely declining the 5 pounds (roughly a dollar, but a significant amount for a tip in our dealing so far) we had scrapped together to give him. Thank god for Middle Eastern hospitality.
Now back to my originally scheduled blog entry...
First things first, breakfast at the Pearl Hotel is served on the 7th floor where there is a rooftop area for us to eat. We didn't eat out there today but do expect some pictures of it because the views of Maadi from there are very good. The food this morning was good, although Lucie (the Professor of record) nearly forced me to try the dish that no one could figure out. Thankfully Gravy (Mike Armstrong) tried it for me and discovered it to be corn porridge. The other food we had were rolls, croissants, beans and hard boiled eggs. Of course I had to have a coffee, and even though it was a packaged and the cream was powdered, it did the trick.
This morning we were met at the hotel by Dr. Negaw Hedayat who led us to the local Metro station where Lucie kindly bought our tickets to go one stop to the Institute. About 10 minutes after arrival the students with arabic knowledge were whisked into a room to take a placement test. My God...the test was ridiculously hard, at least for us one year students. There were words I didn't recognize, grammer I hadn't seen...basically Arabic started to look like the bunch of squiggles, dots and lines that it was to me before I learned the alphabet and the few words that are stored in my memory banks. Hopefully they won't think I'm entirely stupid and place me where I need to be, I think they know what they are doing.
After the test, and the short orientation (and sitting in room 101 in the Hedayat Institute for what felt like ages) we walked about a mile to where we would have lunch...and we were thoroughly ripped off. I ordered a spicy chicken club that was supposed to be a triple deck was squished to practically the size of one slice of bread. To top that off, it wasn't that filling and the place charged us a service charge on top of mandatory tip, absolutely ridiculous. Of course the place we went for dinner, and the "special" place we went to after dinner also charged us those ridiculous charges. I think I am just going to eat by myself from now on, lol jk.
After lunch we went to procure Egyptian prepaid phones...and that was an ordeal in and of itself. I ended up getting a phone that was 10 pounds more than what the other kids got and then the guy seemed as though he didn't have change when it was time for us to pay. How does a place of business not have change, I was absolutely confused by that. But at the end of it all we got our phones, and if you would like to call me here, my number is 0199735899.
Once we had successfully gotten our phones and programmed our respective numbers in it (which really came in handy when Lucie got worried when we didn't show up right away after dinner) we set out to have dinner on the island in the middle of the Nile at the Marriot Hotel with Leo and Ana who had been studying in Cairo for the semester. The dinner was a little pricey, but it was worth it to hand out with Leo and Ana for a bit and get their perspectives on their times in Cairo. Leo went home tonight (its currently 1:21am here) but Ana will be around for another week and hopefully we will get more time with her.
Tomorrow will take us to Giza where I will finally see the pyramids that I have heard so much about for a good portion of my life. I am excited for the trip, but we have to get up a tad early so I am going to end this here.
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cairo Post 2, The Paris Layover and First Night in Cairo

I am writing this from room 404 in the Pearl Hotel in the Maadi section of the city of Cairo. It is currently 11:56 pm in Egypt which makes it 4:56 pm back home in New York. I'm rooming with Mike "Gravy" Armstrong and we just returned from dinner at this place called Mermaid on the other side of the Metro tracks from our hotel. We all got here and agreed that we all needed to get some food...and then promptly return and fall out, but I haven't fallen out just yet.

Working backwards I was the first one to arrive in Paris out of the group as a result of getting moved up to the earlier flight leaving out of JFK. That flight didn't really end up being that much earlier, in fact it left New York around 6pm when my original flight was supposed to leave anyway. I didn't make a big fuss about getting bumped up because the man that took me offline told me that I would get 150 euros for doing it. Of course when I landed in Paris I got this huge run around and was sent from Air France ticketing to Delta ticketing, because technically everything was booked through Delta, then back to AF, back to Delta etc. Long story short, I do not have my 150 euros, but I will be yelling at someone when I get back to JFK in June.

The one blessing out of taking an earlier flight was that I got a chance to take the train into Paris. I took the RER line B3 from Charles de Gaulle terminal 2 to the only stop in Paris that looked familiar to me, Notre Dame. My goodness, what a beautiful city Paris is to walk around, at least from what I experienced walking around the area of Notre Dame for an hour. Of course I took pictures and a few videos, they will all be on facebook but here are a few of them.

Yes Mom, I was able to get back to the airport in time for my flight and we arrived in Cairo around 7:30pm Egypt time. I must say that flying an international flag carrier, Air France in this case, is a really nice experience because it was the first time I felt like I was being treated as an adult. It might be miniscule but being served wine without a second thought is a really nice experience. I see people who are 21 in the states who are forever questioned and harassed for ID when they try to obtain alcohol. It is just interesting and nice to see how the Europeans do it.

Drinking wine aside being in Cairo for this first night has been quite an experience so far. Our bus ride from the airport to Maadi took like 45 minutes, and it was through some crazy and intense traffic that was straight out of Frogger. I thought Saudi traffic was bad because they go super fast and sometimes ignore the lanes. In Egypt, I couldn't even make out lane markers if I wanted to. Absolutely insane, and yet all the New Yorkers on the trip instantly said that we would love to try our hands at it...of course that won't happen.

All in all, I am really looking forward to what lies ahead. Tomorrow we do placement tests and orientation and I will try and blog about how boring that is when I get back to the hotel tomorrow afternoon or night.

Well that's all for now, thanks for reading!


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cairo Post 1, Very Quick Update

So I'm currently sitting on Air France Flight 23 leaving JFK at 440pm. I was supposed to be on AF17 leaving at 6 but I was pulled off line and given this seat...and 150 euros when I arrive in Paris. I will try and get a fuller post up when we arrive in Paris but for now I must turn this contraption off. I should arrive in Paris around midnight EDT. Thank you all for the well wishes, and check back for more updates. Sent from my Sprint BlackBerry

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