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.

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