I've got some 'splaining to do

A brief explanation as to why I havent been/ won't be posting for a while:

After a mere seven days of class, the school was buzzing yesterday about exactly how long we would have off for Eid; the previously accepted time was 6 days, starting Friday. Around noon, there was a visible change in the atmosphere here at AUC as everyone ran around screaming and hugging. Turns out, the Egyptian government cancelled all schools and universities until October 3 [at the earliest] due to Eid and the onset of swine flu here. So, I'm off to Hurghada, a small beach town on the Red Sea, until Monday, and then probably heading to Israel and Jordan with my boyfriend [ much for not letting things get out of hand with Goose, right? Who's surprised?] where we will meet up with the two Chris's.

Don't miss me too badly, and be looking forward to regular posting and lots of adventurous stories when I get back!

Port Said: The Politically Correct Version

I cannot write anything here that happened in Port Said.

All I will say is that the city kinda sucks, but I had a fantastic time with my friends, all of whom I love more than ever.

Sorry, kids.

Lessons learned thus far in Al-Misr

  1. The security guards at AUC do not like Capture the Flag. They do not want us to like capture the flag. Especially not after midnight. Especially not during class. Especially not on their sandscaping.
  2. Doritos are about as expensive as a weekend on the Mediterranean.
  3. Shisha is a universal cure-all.
  4. So are good friends.
  5. You cannot walk more than 50 feet at AUC without running into one of these good friends.
  6. It is possible to take a walk of shame at 6am without having shacked anywhere.
  7. Alabama football is nearly as important as air.
  8. Sleep is not nearly as important as I had originally thought. Neigh, it is possible to function daily on three hours of sleep.
  9. Egyptian Arabic is wack.
  10. Keeping your cheeks clenched constantly is the only way to prevent tap-water-induced accidents.
  11. Dramaderies are terrifying, as are Arabian stallions. But nothing will make you as happy as galloping through the desert on one as the sun rises over the pyramids.
  12. Piastres are the biggest waste of paper ever. In the history of the world.
  13. Skype is life.
  14. Ten completely different people can become family in less than two weeks.
  15. Foosball is a national pasttime here.
  16. 8:30am classes are not as bad as I feared.
  17. A "short trip" to the city will always last at least seven hours.
  18. Ramadan rocks.
  19. The HUSS building makes no sense. At all. It's a sick joke.
  20. You can waste all the water you want here. You want 50 fountains on campus? No problem. You wanna take an hour long shower? Go ahead. Water the sand? You got it boss. Let the faucet run all night? Stop worrying. Really, it's not like the Middle East is in a water crisis or anything.

...more to come, I'm sure.

Did that really just happen?

Sept 3 2009
I ask myself that question a lot here. The past two days have been completely ridiculous. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a not so good way. The one thing I can say about life here is that it's exciting. Most people say exciting and it always has a positive connotation, but bad things can be exciting too. And really, as long as it's exciting, whether in a positive or negative way, at least things aren't boring.
On Tuesday I slept in all day because exhaustion finally caught up with me. I was still lounging around in my room when Chris called me and announced we were all getting on a bus in a half hour to go to Tahrir Square. I took the world's fastest shower and got ready in record time. At 4pm, Chris, Chris, Goose, Katie, Becky, Anna, Nate, Zach, Frankie and I got on the bus and settled in for a 45-minute drive. About five minutes into the ride, the bus driver put on his hazard lights, got out of his seat, walked back to a seat in the middle of the bus, and appeared to settle in for a nap. We were all completely dumbfounded. No one else on the bus seemed to think this was out of the ordinary. We were in the backseat discussing the perks of a job where you could randomly decide to nap anytime and still get paid when it dawned on us that he had been praying. We still have so much to learn. After a few minutes, he got up and we were on our way again. What a strange, wonderful place where you can take a few minutes out of your job and practice your beliefs without offending anyone. Wasn’t that the idea behind America in the first place?
We got off of the bus in Tahrir Square by the old AUC campus and wandered around for a while. We wandered into a papyrus shop that had lots of essential oils for all kinds of ailments. They had the best names: "Nervous Colon", "Sexual Weakness", etc. This created the perfect setup for one of my favorite exchanges of all time.
Goose: Chris, you probably need to buy some Sexual Weakness oil, don't you think?
Chris: No, that's ok, I produce my own.
I also had a first shortly thereafter. I was dressed very conservatively since it's Ramadan- loose fitting jeans and a loose long sleeve tunic top. As Katie and I were walking side my side, an old woman in a full abaya/hijab lunged at me and made a hissing noise. For a few moments I was completely dumbstruck, then horrified, wondering if she had actually spit on me. Luckily, she hadn't. But regardless, I was shocked. The only thing more that I could have done to be respectful would have been to wear a headscarf- and there were definitely girls in our group showing a lot more skin than I was. That's the first time ANYTHING like that has happened to me, in Morocco or Egypt, but I'm sure it won't be the last.
Next we met up with Ahmed and Sharif, the chess grandmaster and his friend from the other night. They took us to Felfel for a snack before a night of fun. I got shewarma, and it was delicious. Then we walked down to the Nile where we boarded a feluka boat covered in flashing neon lights blasting dance music. The ten of us rocked out to 50 Cent as we cruised down the Nile, unable to believe our lives.
Next Ahmed took us to a little shisha bar he goes to a lot, a humble little place in an alleyway. I was starting to get tired and thought maybe I wouldn’t make it through the night, so I tried to go easy on the shisha and guzzle some water, especially since Ahmed kept saying we had a long walk ahead of us. When we finished there, we set off for Hussein, a historic part of Cairo. At first we just meandered through streets and darted across traffic, but the next thing I knew we were walking across a high-rise bridge- four lanes, no sidewalk. We hugged the guard rail and walked nearly a mile and a half with cars whizzing by us less than six inches away. I have never concentrated on walking a straight line so hard in my life.
When we finally got off the bridge Ahmed and Sharif took us on a walking tour of historical mosques in Hussein, some of the oldest in Egypt, and all famous for various reasons. In the moonlight, lit by the neon glow of Cairo, it was so eerily beautiful that I was breathless.
As we wandered through the souk [market] looking at hookahs and jewelry, we finally started getting some catcalls, which have been few and far between here, and so very different from Morocco. I think the compliment of my life came from a vendor I passed: "You look like Spice Girl! Spicey spicey!"
We randomly stopped in a little café about the size of a storage unit where there was traditional Egyptian singing going on. We sat down, smoked some excellent shisha, and listened, enraptured, as the woman sang. The dj/announcer thanked us over and over again for coming, and even had us write down our names in Arabic so he could read them out loud and thank us again, along with Mr. President Obama.
Finally, around 12am, we stopped in at a restaurant where we had a private upstairs room and feasted on all kinds of things I don’t remember the names of, except for baba ganoush, which I'm pleased to say tastes as good as it sounds. We caught the 2am bus home, swearing no night could ever be better. Little did we know that two nights later we would have a night to rival any we had had so far.
The next day I slept in all day, and didn’t get anything I needed to accomplished. That night, we went out with Ahmed and Sherief again. First we broke the fast at a restaurant he knew and ate delicious food. Then, Ahmed showed us his driving skills, which consisted of nearly killing us and any nearby pedestrians over and over by squeezing mere inches between cars, weaving through traffic, and doing doughnuts feet away from small children. After we had regained control of our bladders, he took Katie, Goose, Frankie, Dooler and I to a café where we smoked excellent shisha [are you noticing a theme here?] and Katie sang karaoke. After that, we went to City Stars, did some shopping, and came home.
The next night was our Bedouin Night: Extreme Grandmaster Version. At 9pm we met Ahmed, Sherief, and their friend who has a bus in Zamalek. We drove an hour into the desert, and the first moment that I saw a giant triangular shadow on the horizon, a pyramid, will forever be engrained in my memory. I think that was the first moment it really sank in that I'm living in Egypt for the next 3 years. We were distracted from the pyramids by neon lights in the distance. We pulled up to a crowded outdoor club- no roof, no floor, just sand and stars and thatch huts and low tables and carpets on the ground. It was breathtaking. We settled in on our cushions in the very front of the club, closest to the makeshift stage, when someone gasped. We all looked around….and there was a man holding a lion. A lion cub, to be exact. He came over and let us all hold it and take pictures with it. Cuddling with a lion cub in the shadow of the pyramids has got to be the coolest thing I had ever done up until that point. From that point, we ate delicious food, danced to American music, limbo-ed, watched Oriental dancing, and Katie did karaoke. We danced our asses off, generally acting like idiots.
Goose and I have been joking around for the past few days about getting married, and I gave him a ring to surprise me with at some point. The plan was to do something really embarrassing when I least expected it. As we were getting ready to leave the club around 4:30am, Goose decided he wanted to dance. I couldn’t figure out why he wanted to dance so badly, because I was tired. He finally pulled me up on stage, and we were the only ones up there. Embarrassed, I looked at him and said, "well, go ahead, you're the one who wanted to dance so badly." At this point, he got down on one knee, pulled out the ring, and "proposed". Unfortunately, none of our friends saw, but about fifty Egyptians got up and clapped and congratulated us, thinking it was a real engagement. I was thoroughly embarrassed, but now we refer to ourselves as fiancées and most of the people we've met since then think we actually are.
After that, as the sun was coming up, I got on a dramadery [a two-hump camel] that was wayyyy higher than the camels I'm used to from Morocco and very scary. We rode out into the desert and had tea in the shadow of the pyramids, and then built a human pyramid in front of them. After that, I traded in my camel for an Arabian stallion and galloped full-speed back to the club, which was simultaneously the scariest and most exhilarating ten minutes of my life—riding through the desert beside the pyramids nearly bareback on a stallion. It was incredible. We took the long busride back to campus, and we all slept all day.
We stayed up all that night playing a game in the common room, and the next day I finally got to register for my classes.
Last night Goose and I stayed up watching text updates from the Alabama game – ROLL TIDE! We won, and it made me miss home and football so much, but I do love it here and I know that this is where I'm supposed to be.
Goose and I are slowly turning into a real couple…I suppose joking about it enough will do that. It's strange. I adore him. He is by far the funniest person I've ever met and he makes me laugh constantly. He's also the most caring, genuine, earnest person I know here, and I know he cares about me a lot already, I just don’t know that I want anything "official" or serious right now, so I have to figure out a way to keep my distance somehow.
I finally got to bed at 4am, and woke up at 7:20 to get ready for my 8:30 Arabic class. Intermediate Arabic at 8:30am after only a few hours of sleep kicked my ass, so I'm gonna have to start getting more sleep.
Now I'm off to Science and Tech of Ancient Egypt, my science class. Sorry this entry was so long…it took DAYS to write. I'll start keeping up better, promise. Miss you all!

It Seems Like Everywhere I Go, the More I See the Less I Know

I find that, somehow moreso in Egypt than in Morocco, I am constantly making an ass of myself here. Perhaps it's because the campus is way too big for the meager 5,000 students who go here and I'm constantly wandering around like an Alzheimer's patient. Perhaps it's because I'm more ballsy about my actions now that it's my second time in MENA. And I suppose it's partly because a lot of times in Morocco I felt like I played it too safe instead of taking risks. This time around, I decided I really want to live, and experience everything, not just observe. I think that, despite the constant ass-making I do, always seeming clueless and lost, I'll be happy that I chose to do things this way in the long run.
Yesterday I didn't have much to do: I signed up for some trips [Alexandria, Bedouin Night, and Giza..there's a 3-day cruise over our long weekend in September too, but its 1750 LE, around $350. Needless to say, I won't be going.], tried to sign my loan check [they wouldn’t let me because I haven’t registered for my classes], registered my e-mail address, and went to the one orientation meeting they have for transfer students. Know what I found out? There are only two transfer students this year, including me. And the other has lived in Cairo for a few years. Silly me. Somehow I thought it was more common to take the route I have. Apparently not.
After that enlightening experience, I hung out with "The Gang" in the common room for a few hours- the common room is the only place in the residential area that is co-ed. There's a group of about eight of us: me, Katie, Becky, Anna, Chris, Will, Zach, Rashid, and Adam. We all hang out together all the time, but the sad thing is all of them except Becky are leaving in December. I have a feeling that that's how things will be at AUC; I'll have to make new friends every semester. We hung around, played BS, and then went to dinner at Tabasco. After that we tried to get a football game together, but we were too disorganized. At 10pm, we caught the bus to Zamalek to go to a bar. It was about an hour's ride there, along busy highways and overpasses. The skyline on the way was so diverse: huge mosque minarets penetrating the black night sky, grandiose hotels, and decrepit buildings literally falling apart around the residents. I also had an enthralling conversation with my new bff Will [I never call him Will- he will henceforth be referred to as Goose or Sunshine. He looks EXACTLY like Goose Dunham. I know, I'm gay.] that ended in my nearly peeing on myself when he asked how I liked his "smell". We got off the bus and Zach, the fearless leader [who was so dedicated to finding a bar that he had drawn up a map], led the speed-walk to a fancy bar on the banks of the Nile. No alcohol here, we were told. [Note: right now is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, where they fast all day and get to eat all night. It's a little difficult to find alcohol here right now.]
Disappointed but not defeated, we started a two mile trek to the Mariott, which has a pub in it. We walked through dank alleyways full of stray cats, passed all the embassies, and practiced our extreme jay-walking [friends from Morocco take note before you come visit me: crossing the street in Cairo is wayyyyy more intense than it was in Morocco. Try crossing 6 lanes of speeding vehicles Meknes-style. It's a rush.]. We FINALLY made it to Harry's Pub, where we quickly placed an exceptionally large order and were delivered exceptionally large Sakara Gold beers [Bama folks: about the size of a Big Ass Beer in Nola]. We had the whole pub to ourselves [again, it's Ramadan] and had a great time talking, watching soccer on the TV, and laughing about how much trouble we went through to get alcohol. Typical Americans. Four Exceptionally Large Beers and two hours later, we stumbled through the streets of Zamalek trying to retrace our steps to find the bus stop. After getting lost several times, we made it to the bus and I had an intense discussion with Chris. Around 3am, I poured myself into bed [the night before I had only gotten two hours of sleep].
I woke up at 8:30, too lazy to take a shower, and ran errands on campus- trying to register and whatnot. Important discoveries today: AUC is only accepting 24 [possibly 30] of my 60 credits from Alabama. This means I will probably be here for THREE years. And also, I can't register for classes until Saturay. School starts Sunday [since Friday is the Muslim holy day, the weekend here is Friday and Saturday. The school week starts Sunday. We'll see how many times this causes me to miss class on Sunday. Predication: a lot.]. Also, the trip to Giza is at the same time on Saturday, so I will miss seeing the pyramids. All rather disappointing discoveries.
Anyway, I'm off to nap- 7 hours sleep in two days is just not okay.
Also, I'm sorry I haven't really described Cairo much. The truth is, on the AUC compound, I don’t really see much of anything except desert, and I've only been off the compound twice. I will definitely try, but let me give a disclaimer: nothing I write will ever do Cairo justice. You'll never get the feel of the broken sidewalk, the chalky-dustiness of the ground, the gray tint to the sky, to heat of the Egyptian sun pounding down on you, the hum of all manner of different languages. For that, I apologize. Come visit me and see for yourself.