Sunday, June 28, 2009

Citadel and Music

I meant to post this for all of you -- my friend Spencer found it on the interweb. Take a gander at numbers 13 and'll realize why. Not to pigeon-hole and mock myself, but its pretty funny.

I'm running off as we speak to what's called The Castle on the Sea and have negative time....sooooo MUSIC. Right. So here it is, my make-up song, a true classic: Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" because a sickening elevator version plays on a very loop in the coffeeshop I freqent and I need (and you, along with me) to hear the original properly sung.

And you get a plus one because I just listened to it in Egyptian dialect class. Good song, even if it is dated. Amr Diab from 2002. He's kind of a big deal. The song is called "Khalini Ganbak" which means "Stay Next to Me".

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why Hebrew is Cool According to Muhammad Sayyid

As I sit here in the Alexandria Center for Language, looking lustfully at the food that they have prepared for lunch (they feed us something every day), my stomach is growling, I need to shower, do laundry, and go to the gym, and the Internet is down. So I’m blogging to cure at least the hunger.

{Mom, grandma: stop worrying, I’ll be fine once our weekly Arabic lecture is over (at 5) and I can go buy something to eat. Though, ironic in some profound way, the lecture this week is on Arab FOODS…}

I have decided to discuss my Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) class with you. Particularly my Fusha teacher and his fantastic “charujat” (digressions). He pontificated yesterday on a number of things including how impressive he considers revival of the Hebrew language, the unfair position of the Iranians in the sphere of international politics, and the origins of Humus. In an attempt to avoid (most) politics in this blog, I’ll tell you only what he said about the foremost topic. Food, as we all know, can get dangerously emotional.

He explained to us, in beautiful Arabic wrought with case endings (yes, this man speaks in case-endings, as one might read the Quran) and emphasized long vowels, that Israel is a great example of how a language can unite a people. The revitalization of the Hebrew language, which had previously been dead, is not only a remarkable feat to be marveled at, but should be duplicated when it comes to Arabic. His sermon came out of a discussion based on a text we had read about the difficulties presented by the disconnect between the “High” Arabic (“Fusha”, literally “eloquence”) that is used in official things like the news on TV and official speeches and announcements, and the spoken Arabic of the street (“Amiyya” - dialects that change from geographic region to geographic region, from country to country, and even sometimes from city to city). Mohammad Sayeed disagreed with the article’s position, and proceeded to posit his own: Bring Fusha back. Just like Eliezer Ben Yehuda brought the language of the Torah into daily life, we (the Arabs) should command the language of the Quran even when it comes to the mundane. And, most importantly, all Arabs understand it, so becomes a unifying, broadly nationalizing force, like Hebrew is for the Jewish people. I don’t think he - or anybody - really thinks that this is a practical solution, but it was fantastically cheering to listen to, and understand him. (I hope) it means I’ve made strides in my path (Tariq, if you will) to learning this “critical language”. Mabruk to me.

Other hilarious things about Ustath Sayeed:
1) We did a play in which I was the wife and my friend Andy was the husband and we were supposed to discuss the “problems of our marriage”.
a. I began by complaining that I wanted Andy to come home earlier to put our daughter to bed. He responded “We have a daughter!?” Muhammad Sayeed keeled over laughing…and then we all followed suit because he was laughing. It’s now a running joke.
2) He told me I sound like a rural farmer (one of the “Fellaheen”) when I pronounce the words that mean “Noon”.
3) He taught us how to say Zebra: “hasaan wahish”, which literally means “Ugly Horse”.
4) He orders tea to class. The errand boy brings it. Sometimes he asks if we want anything. Totally normal.
5) He is also just a fantastic, helpful, punctilious Egyptian man who understands very little English and cares deeply about the Arabic language. He loves to remind us that he considers Modern Standard Arabic is his first love.

No time for a song of the day. I'll get back to you on that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Sorry it took so long to get these up. It took about an hour and a half to upload them, and patience is not my virtue.

From Egypt at First Glance

This is the view from the front of the hotel we were staying at in Giza (next door to Cairo...). Al-Ahram (The Pyramids).

From Egypt at First Glance

From Egypt at First Glance

From Egypt at First Glance

We watched Obama's speech dubbed in Arabic, but could make out most of the English underneath.

From Egypt at First Glance
Didn't find it. But it was cool to see this sign in Coptic Cairo.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Siwa and lovin'

[This blog post was written yesterday (June 22), but the Internet was (extra) bad, so it was posted today]

I forgot to mention earlier that I was going to Siwa. Whoops. So...I went to Siwa this weekend!

It was my first experience with what I have decided to term a “donkey-cart-no-women-hot-sand-desert” culture. To explain: Siwa is an ancient oasis town close to the Egypt-Libya border where they speak a special Berber dialect in addition to Arabic known as TaSiwit and the temperature has been known to reach unhealthy heights in the summer…[BREATHE] which is why the tourist season is in the winter. But we, clever Americans with State Department funding, decided to spend our time there, touring in the sweltering heat of late June. (Don’t worry Mom, much sunscreen was applied.) Until the the first quarter of the 20th century, Siwa was a sort of homosexual Mecca (pardon the inappropriate religious reference), most likely because Siwan men were entirely segregated from their female counterparts before marriage. We got a taste of the vestiges of that culture when, on Saturday night, a bunch of (fully clothed) male belly dancers, well, danced, and grabbed the guys on our trip to join in their homoeroticism. As for encounters with the fairer sex, I think I saw approximately three women in Siwa, two of which were under the age of 13, and one of which was FULLY covered (eyes included), on a cart pulled by a donkey, holding a baby, and probably was hot out.

Backing up a little bit, the first day in Siwa was one of the most fantastically full days I’ve yet had in Egypt. We got on the bus at 6 am, arrived at Siwa around 1, had lunch, and jumped into jeeps for a “Safari” tour of the Sahara desert. We (lets see if I can remember) drove through the desert crazy-fast over dunes, some of which were close to sheer drops (like 70-degree drops, no joke) where, as the drivers took us over in 2nd gear, we literally thought we were going to tumble down to a gloomy, sandy death.

So here’s what we did, descriptively and chronologically: We went to an overlook of the desert -- ascetically cool. We went to a watering hole -- physically cool. We went to a bed of fossilized shells (foraminifera?) left over from when the Sahara was an ocean -- geologically cool. We went to a hot spring -- kind of the opposite of cool. We watched the sun set from the top of a huge sand dune -- really, really cool. Dinner was a fire-lit Bedouin (or, in according to the spelling on our itinerary: Bedwin) feast -- treifly cool. No goat for me, thanks.

So, in short: Siwa is a pretty chill town, if you’re a guy. You can walk the length of it (with escorts, if you’re a girl) in approximately 20 minutes, and there are mosques at 3 ½ minute intervals. The old city or “Shali” in Siwa (before it was bombed by Italians in WWII and then went through a nutso rainstorm something like 10 years later so that the mud-and-salt walls crumbled) is located in the middle of town and is pretty sweet. And, as my nicotine-addicted friend found out, there’s only one guy in town who sells cigarettes.

As for today -- my friend Dan Bregman (who many of you are privy to call your friend as well) came to Alex to visit. We saw some of Alex’s key sights (the Bibliotheca, Pompey’s Pillar, the Greco-Egyptian Catacombs) and then I went to class and then I tried to do all of my homework and then I failed and then I started blogging. So here I am, 2am, with a load of not-yet-done homework and a completed blog post. I’d say I’m in good shape.

Oh if you want to send me a real letter or something (which would be sufficient but not at all necessary for us to maintain this generally one-sided electronic relationship), my mailing address is:

Alexandria Center for Language
FOR: Elisheva Goldberg
11 Mohammad Khattab St.
Bab Sharki
Alexandria, Egypt

Just because I want to send YOU something, had coffee this morning and I’m feeling fantastic, your song of the post is the Beatles': “All My Lovin’” I will send to you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Marduk, aka my gracious cousin, Mordechai Treiger, emailed me this article from the NYTimes today. You can read it if you want to get an reporter's sense of kind of Izdihaam (overcrowding) there is in Egypt...or you could just read my blog. The Shabaab ("youth") here call groups of people crossing the streets "suicide families" because its literally DEADLY, as I've mentioned before.

Today I learned the worlds for "to crowd", "settlement", "to occupy", "check point", "protest", "to prevent", and "stapler". All very useful.

So to continue the popular Egyptian mood, I leave you with today's popular Egyptian song by Samira Said. We listened to it today in my Amiyya (dialect) class, trying to decipher its lyrics and sing along (no one sang. Our Ustaatha was sad). Its called "Youm Wara Youm". The chorus is quite catchy. Oh, and I haven't seen the video (I would if I could, but the inernet connection is so tenuous its just leisa mumkin [impossible]), so again, please don't hold me accountable for its visual contents.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Is the word for "vocabulary". Which I am reviewing.

But I'm sick of it. I just learned the word for "to do something artistically", and have come to realize that its absurd to try and learn all of Arabic in two months, especially since I failed to understand roughly 60% of my Modern Standard Arabic class today.

Moving on.
Modes of Transportation:
Today I was in a taxi that was playing a Quran sura about the Oneness of God (I asked). Today I was also in a taxi with a neon, flashing strobe light and fluffy pink and green dangley plush monsters. Today I was in a minibus (a "meshruah" in Alexandrian Arabic) with women and babies and a driver who I honestly thought was trying his hardest to kill every visible pedestrian. Oh and yesteday I was in a (supernice) Honda with one of my friend's language partner at the wheel. I've never felt such a thrill as I did sitting in that car. It was like a real-life version of Today I walked to class. With my feet. As usual. That was satisfying.

In other news, I've begun what I hope to be a foray into the Egyptian mind regarding Israel and American foreign policy. I've now had two "discussions" about it and listened to one long rant from my class. The gist is this: They think Bush was bad, Obama's full of hope, and Jews and Israelis are considered ideologically seperate groups. I have had to lie (ever so slightly), or avoid mentioning the fact that I am a Jew several times now, and so far so good! My language partner, however, figured it out from my name. Usually I introduce myself as Shev, or Shireen (I was thus christened by our Ustaath (prof), Muhammad Said). More than that I won't write here, you'll have to email me or post (which I re-enabled so it should work) so that I know you're interested and I'll provide a bit more detail.

Oh and my apologies for my incorrect usage of the word "verdant". I've been informed that it is, in fact, more accurate to use "verdure" when referring to greenery as a noun. Verdant functions only as an adjective. I could explain this all in Arabic as well as I seem to have a vast vocabulary of grammatical terms which helps me not at all on the shariyya (street)...but I won't.

As for a song I've chosen the first hit on youtube when I searched for "trance". Why, you ask? Because its POPULAR here, I listened to it BLASTING from that language partner of a friend's roller coaster (car) yesterday for 45 minutes, and both you and I need to get used to it. Here it is. I haven't listened to the whole thing, so I can't vouch for its a) quality b) cleanliness c) length. Maybe you shouldn't listen to it either. But its there if you want it.

Drive like an Egyptian

My friend just left me a note at my desk that says "ما اطيب خيّم يا يعقوب" which, translated to HEBREW means "מה טובו אוהלך יעקב"! ("How good are your tents, Israel.") SOOOO cool. Oh and for all of you Talmudists out there, "قفل" is the verb for "to ensure"...and the Aramaic noun "כפל" in the Talmud sort of acts as insurance...Oh, and we just learned a synonym for student (which had previously been "Talib" in my mind) which is, drum roll please: "Talmeez". 'Mazing.

OK outburst over.
On to things I've been doing.
I have just returned from spending time with my Egyptian "speaking partner", Nada. We went to a restaurant called "Ibn Balad" which means "Child of the Country" to get what they called "Oriental" food. Yes, "Oriental" was their choice of adjective. (Egyptians seem to know nothing of the political incorrectness that word bears in the United States...) The food was classic Middle Eastern fare, and I managed to eat only my typical pita and salad "bass" (only). When I walked in I sort of had this moment of "Wow, I'm with 4 bubbly Egyptian teenagers who want to be my friends, in an Egyptian restaurant in an Egyptian town". It was sort of surreal. What wasn't surreal, and what I suppose I should be used to by now, was the fact that my dinner tonight came to an approximate total of $1.65 (7 Ginnae). Delicious on so many levels.

Anyway, three of Nada's friends and two other Americans came with us. We talked about nothing, but that was just fine. This might sound odd, but the way the Egyptian girls interact with each other - the way they talk, their little mannerisms, even the way they wear their jewlery, reminded me poignantly of Israeli girls at their age (they're all 19). Or maybe its just because I was in Israel for my 19th year, and that's how I have found 19-year-old girls act. Either way, it seemed, for the first time since I've been here, found myslef back in the Middle East.

On the way back to the hotel we only almost killed five people, almost flipped the rickety manual Fiat on a quick turn three times, and almost had a run in with one very large vegetable truck. We also sang "Its Just Too Good to be True" together, learned the words for "cool" (Ifta) and "uncool" (fagkis), and discussed women who wear the Nakab (Hijab + nose and mouth). Oh, and there were 7 of us in the car...Nada was on my lap.

Which leads me to my finale: Off of Ben Harper's new album (some of you may recall that I went to the release party for this album at WXPN for my birthday...) here's the song "Why Must You Always Dress in Black".

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Quayisa (Eng: adj. Fine/Good)

Egypt is annoying sometimes. For example, I have four mosquito bites lining my neck up to my cheek. I think they bear a striking resemblance to the small dipper. Two more on my arm (approx. 2.6 millimeters apart) and another on my back and another on my ankle. Serves me right for going out into the twilight hours when clean. But I'm still OK.

I have a cold..IN THE SUMMER IN EGYPT. As I was wont to say in high school (and lifamim still...) WTF!? How is that possible? But I guess its better than having Influenza al-Chanazeer (or "swin floo" as they call it here). The authorities have quarantined a bunch of Americans kids at Cairo University. And one my friends' boyfriend in the States has it. But when we came off of the plane they thermally scanned us to check if we had a fever, and no one did (or the thermal scanner didn't catch it...), so, not to worry, I'm alright.

I went to the "suk" today with a group of friends and we were picked up by this very nice one-toothed Egyptian man who spoke relatively good English. When he found out we wanted to go to the "suk" (for the record he was perfectly friendly and was giving us directions to other places before he knew where we wanted to go), he dragged us all the way to his brother's silver shop, which was a hole in the wall. Of course, I had to buy something -- but I bargained him down to the approximate equivalent of a bit less than 10 American dollars, which is probably stilll a poor deal on my part, but now - Mom - you have something to look forward to for when I come home. And no harm was done.

In other news, a man was hit by a car -- and promptly died -- yesterday after our tour of the Biblioteca Alexandrina, courtesy of the State Department. I didn't actually see it (Alhumdu LillAh), but he was just crossing the street (like I said, its the most dangerous part of living in Egypt) and that was it. Many of my peers were surprised it took so long for us to witness something like that. I'm being careful. I promise.

So basically, the point of this post is to say to you - and probably more to myself - I'm still fine. And I probably WILL be fine as well. Though, as we are fond of saying here in the CLS Alexandria program: "You can't aarif the mustakbal!" (Eng: you can't know the future © my friend Andy). But for now, I am in what you might call a fine frenzy. Aptly, today's song is by A Fine Frenzy, and its called "You Picked Me".

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Ahalan WaSahalan Ya Readers!

My life Arabic. I've been speaking a good number of hours every day in Arabic only, and its getting to me. But tonight a bunch of CLSers and I went to a lovely seaside restaurant overlooking a marina. On the way we watched the sunset and through the meal we watched the moon rise. Loverly. I had thought that I would miss the beauty of Seattle in the summer intensely - and I do - but I'm realizing that Alex has her own natural wonders, and that though hers are entirely different, I can appreciate them for their own sake just the same.

It is currently 1am here which means that it is 3pm in Seattle, and 6pm in Philly. So you might all read this while I sleep. Which I hope I do. I say hope because the noise outside -- what I like to call the Song of the City -- keeps me up unless I'm utterly exhausted.

In other news I saw a boy who was dirtier than dirt today, eating something that might have been shawerma, sitting on the sea-side, looking...well, dirty. I know that doesn't sound very remarkable, but it was. Dear child, shall I compare thee to a summer's day...when you decided to go swimming in a mudpit?

Anyway, like I said, what I really want tonight is sleep. We had a long day. Aside from class (8:45-1:15) we met with our "Language Peers" (mine's great, thanks for asking. She in college here in Alex, in the art department studying interior design), and had a lecture in highfalutin' Arabic about the science of Calligraphy, which was interesting, but not enough to keep me (and a few others) from dozing off. Anyway - I'm off to intentionally do that now, and I wish you farewell for now.

I leave you with a song that I love that will hopefully put me (but not you - its probably too early for you to go to bed) to sleep. Its called "Lullaby" and its by Ben Folds Five. All I could find was the live version on YouTube...Goodnight and good luck.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Qahwe or 'Ahwe?

We started class. I was placed initially in a level I was nervous about, so I dumped myself in the lower level, which was one of the more frustrating experiences I’ve had in a good long time. I’m back in the “Advanced B” level now, and only semi-lost. As I write I am in the most western place on this side of Alexandria -- a coffee shop called the “Coffee Roastary”. Not to worry, I’ve spent plenty of time in the beachfront “’Awehs” (in Modern Standard Arabic the Qaf is pronounced instead of being replaced by the gutteral stop, or hamza, so that the word sounds like "Qahwe" which is much less confusing and easier to say. Sorry for the grammar lesson -- but its what I live and breathe), but I really wanted a latte, and this place has Internet, though it refuses to work for me. Speaking of western places, yesterday I went to “Carrefour” which is sort of like a WalMart inside of a mall. I felt like I’d taken a cab from one civilization to another, or maybe to the moon -- there were things like an Adidas store, a Claire’s, and even a Starbucks! It was a really odd place to be. I didn’t feel like I was in America but I also didn’t feel like I was in Egypt.

But the latte was weak, small, and expensive. So much for that try. Nevertheless, I will include a song in honor of my latte...and, I suppose, all of the smoking (a-tadkheen) that goes on in this country...and because I'm exhausted because we had class until 8 last night and again at 8:45 this morning and the full time between them (minus 4 1/2ish hours spent sleeping) was spent engrossed in my Arabic notebook. The song includes the lyrics: " So put me on a plane, and fly me to anywhere" which, on some level, kind of represents my life for the next year or so. It's "Coffee and Cigarettes" by Augustana.

OH and before I forget:

Some more of the weird things I’ve seen:
- 24 hours after our group of 25 Americans moved in to the lovely Egypt Hotel (which will be their home for the coming two months), we got a personal guard to sit outside of the reception area and, well, guard us.
- Men with prayer marks on their foreheads. I sort of figured out what these were, but my suspicion was confirmed by others: These are calluses that are built up by those who pray five times a day and scrape their heads on the ground/carpet for years and years. It is considered a mark of distinction and even social status. Pshhhh.
- Religious people not caring about “shomer negiah” (guarding the touch), and extremely religious-looking couples holding hands, etc.
- Oh, lots of men hold hands. They can be wearing tight pink shirts and tight black jeans and linking arms with another man wearing approximately the same outfit, but they’re straight as a board.
-I’d write about the sexual harassment situation, but I’ll avoid the frustrating that will cause all of us, especially certain family members of mine, and simply say that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.
- Today on the way back from class we saw a very dirty man sleeping on the street under a sheet who (I could have sworn) was dead until I saw his arm supporting his head and figured that meant he his muscles were working. I hope.


A few issues of business (yes I CAN say that in Arabic):

- Some of you have asked me if I got to see Obama speak. The answer is no. I watched most of his speech on TV at a restaurant we went to for lunch, but it was dubbed over in Arabic so I could only hear about 80% of what he was saying in English. For the purposes of self-protection and due to the risk of State Department inquiry, I will avoid making any political comments on this blog, but I will say that Obama is a charming speaker and I am happy to call him my president.

- Some of you asked for clarification of who the “we” are. “We” are the Intermediate/Advanced Critical Language Scholarship recipients in Alexandria, Egypt. A group of 25 Americans from across the country studying various subjects at various levels from architecture undergrads (my roommate) to medical researchers working on a masters to PhD students in political science or philosophy.

- Others of you have told me that you can’t post comments. THAT’S WEIRD. I don’t know why, but I’ll do my best with my flimsy Internet connection to check it out and get back to you.

- Others yet of you have responded to my blog via email, which is amazing. Please continue to do so. You make my day. ☺

-Today I’m going to put the song first, because I left you hanging last time and I don’t want to forget --- the song for today is kind of how I feel in Egypt. And, as I was saying to one of my friends here, I'm OK with feeling this way here. In other places (namely Israel), I'm not comfortable being identifiable as foreign, but here, since I A) physically CANNOT blend in and B) I don't have a profound desire to be one of the locals, I am OK being "An American Girl" by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. I would link it, but since my internet connection is SO bad, I can't get youtube up - I've been trying for hours now - so I'm just going to post this and if you want to, just search for it in youtube. Eeeek. Sorry.

We checked out in the morning after the customary 6:30 wake-up call (painful) and got on the bus so that we could be the first group into the spectacular, though very dirty, Egyptian Museum. ‘Aamr gave us an incredible tour - he’s really a very impressive tour guide - and I learned something about Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of ancient Egypt. My favorite, obviously, was Queen Hatshepsut who ruled Egypt as a king - false beard and all - for a couple of decades because the next heir was five years old at the time that the throne was vacated by all of her other immediate male relatives. I won’t bore you with any more details, but I will say that some of the stuff, especially the tomb of King Tut and the alters that were in abundance, reminded me of various chunks of Leviticus, and how the Jewish people are forbidden from carrying out various rituals, building various types of statues, and even returning to Egypt. It felt weird.
Hands down, the most frightening experiences I’ve had in Egypt have involved crossing the street. I just thought I’d say that before moving on.

OK, so I want to write a book entitled “My Bizarre First Shabbat In Alex” and distribute it widely to any Orthodox Jewish people who go abroad. No time for details now, but lets just say it was fine, and I’ll be more prepared next time.

Saw everything that there is to see in Alexandria for tourist, and will be going back to most (Alexandria museum, Greek-Egyptian catacombs, Montazah Gardens, etc.) so I won’t write about them now, but I will say that I was deeply impressed by the catacombs. If you want to see them, here’s a link that’ll give you an idea of what I saw.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I am American

Its been too long, dear readers, since I’ve been in touch. I know. I’m going to try and make up for it. After trying unsuccessfully for ten or so minutes to get my Google account out of Arabic, I am now ready to begin this blog in earnest.

I’ve spent the last few days in two different cities, where if you combine their populations would give you roughly 26 million people. (Cairo 22 million; Alexandria 4 million). I have now had one day of class, an afternoon spent touring Alexandria, a cup of coffee, and I am ready to blog. Here we go.

What to say, what to say…I met people. I made friends. I got the basics of what we’ll be doing in Alex. I ate my last GOOD kosher food. I’d write about how interesting it was to learn about all of employment opportunities for people who want to go into the Foreign Service, private sector of international business, or human rights lobby, but none of them interested me. But this really isn’t what I want to write about, and probably isn’t what you want to read about, so I’ll just move on to the flight.

Was fine. Talked a lot, tried to sleep, failed, refused to watch “He’s Just Not That Into You” for the third time (they had shown it on my plane from Seattle to DC so I watched it with my 40-something single-serving seat mate and I’d seen it in Philly), and read some of the Cairo Trilogy. We almost didn’t make our connection (we sat on the DC runway for something like 2 hours), so when we got to Frankfurt Lufthansa, with classic German efficiency, brought a special “Transport” (yes, they called it that, and yes, it made me nervous) to bring the DC to Cairo passengers to their plane on the jet way.

We got off the plane, we bought visas ($15 USD), they stamped our passports (note: My obviously Jewish name made no impact on my gracious Egyptian passport officer), and we dragged ourselves off to baggage claim where it soon became evident that our stuff had not arrived with us. A man named Mohammad came to deal with us, and he said - repeatedly - that so long as we were willing to “trust Mohammad” everything would be fine…and it was. Despite the order in which Mohammad did things (all ladies first) we did end up getting our bags back the next day, though only after super-long day of touring Cairo wearing the same thing we’d been wearing for the preceding 30 hours. That night we had dinner on the Nile. We boarded something like a ferryboat but instead of cars, there was a kitchen on the bottom floor. The entertainment consisted of singers sounding something like adult, professional karaoke, an incredible whirling dervish that I unfortunately missed most of because I was out on the deck, and belly dancers who grabbed a bunch of us to dance with them, though I eluded them a bit more craftily than some of my peers. Though there was an impressive variety of crazy-delicious looking food I ate bread, humus, and cold salad. My Bube was right: Hunger IS the best spice.

On top of the fact that we were in a fancy hotel, had non-stop tours, and no one but each other to practice our Arabic, I went through Cairo in a daze. We began at the Pyramids, conveniently located approximately 8 minutes from our hotel in Giza, which is a sort of suburb of Cairo. They are just as amazing as everyone says they are. I’ll figure out how to post pictures so you can see what I mean. There are dozens of pyramids in Egypt, but the most famous ones are the tombs of a grandfather, his son, grandson and a few of their wives in mini-pyramids next to each of them. We were advised by our tour guide, ‘Aamr, to avoid paying the absurd prices for the first (biggest) pyramid and go into the second one for which the normal price was 60 Egyptian pounds, but with an international student card was, instead, 30LE. The inside of the pyramid is pretty cool. Its stiflingly hot because here is literally no air circulation, and if I were any taller, getting in and out would have been extraordinarily uncomfortable, but it is really an incredible feeling to know that you are inside the tomb of an ancient king who was able to build something that has become one of the world’s wonders. We also climbed the big one a bit, saw some smallish priest’s tombs, and got back on the bus to the panoramic spot where we took lots of perspective shots, a group picture, and just generally had a good time before moving on to the Sphinx. It’s just like you see it in the pictures, except approximately 400 times cooler. We hung out at the sphinx until it was being evacuated for Obama’s visit and then loaded back on the bus. We saw the oldest pyramids at Saqqarra, which are smaller and steppier, if that can be used as an adjective, than the famous ones -- the first tries, if you will -- and lots of statues of Ramses II in Memphis. On the way there I stared out the window, as has become my custom, and kept being amazed by how full of absurdities Egypt seems to be. Things like men riding on the backs of vans full of garbage while they pelt, full-speed, down the causeway where three lanes means five, boys swimming in a sewage-infested Nile runoff, and bright green fields at odd spots between unpainted buildings that, I’ve realized, are the reason Cairo looks so dirty (if they would paint the city, it wouldn’t look like Tatuween (sp?) from Star Wars). The last thing before lunch was a visit to The Papyri Institute which is a place where they hand-make “authentic” papyrus. We had a demonstration, and then the proprietor followed me (and only me…I think because I asked a question) around the store. There were a few interesting pictures (including one papyrus of the 10 commandments IN HEBREW) but I decided against buying souvenirs so early in the trip.

I will post more later. Really. And a song for today. Later.