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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fi Iskindereya

Part of our study abroad orientation here at AUC was a three-day trip to Alexandria, Iskindereya in Arabic. On the way we stopped off at the Desert Development Center where we got a glimpse of the Egyptian countryside, in which life has changed little for what has likely been millenia. A lot of the countryside was dry, dusty, and flat, but a fair amount was somewhat vegetated and populated with small agricultural villages.At the DDC they fed us a very traditional breakfast of aysh, mankoush, foul, "black honey" (molasses), and something that was explained to us only as "old cheese." The aysh (pita), mankoush (pastryesque flat bread), and foul (stewed fava beans) were very good, but the black honey was a little strong and the "old cheese" was positively overwhelming and... quite frankly, pretty atrocious. In fact, the serving shared in the middle of my table had a couple of maggots in it. From this we learned that maggots can jump a fair distance. Not too appetizing.

When we finally arrived in Alexandria we learned that the ISSO (International Student Services Office) was putting us up in the 5-star Hilton Borg el-Arab Mediterranean resort. It was a beautiful (albeit hideous shade of pink) hotel, and the rooms were spacious and much more comfortable than our dorm rooms. We realized pretty quickly why the ISSO was able to afford to house us there, as Alexandria was very, very cold with a bit of rain, and the Mediterranean (which was literally only a few hundred feet from our rooms) was downright freezing. It was beautiful anyway though, and the food was incredible.We also discovered an interesting cultural tidbit when we realized that each of our hotel rooms came equipped with a plaque pointing out the direction to Mecca so Muslim tourists would be able to orient themselves properly in time to pray. Another tidbit is that everything is alphabetized by first name here, so I've met and know fairly well all the other Katherine/Kathryn/Kate/Katie(s) here, as well as the one Catherine (who goes to Reed!), who happens to be the roommate of one of the other Kathryns.
The first two days of the trip we spent not doing very much because the hotel was actually very far from the city proper, and the sea was too cold to go swimming in. We had a couple of actual orientation meetings (useless, as they waited until we'd been in Egypt more than a week to tell us various tips about getting by on transportation systems, shopping areas, etc.) in which we learned that our advisor from the ISSO office is literally the scariest, haughtiest woman that most of us had ever met. The tips she gave us were also useless because she doesn't actually know how to get by in Cairo--she's wealthy enough that she's never had to do it herself.

On the third day we had a ridiculously whirlwind tour of the city of Alexandria. It was whirlwind to the point that we were given less than 10 minutes to visit one of our destinations, and only drove past another one. We saw the Catacombs of Kom el-ShoKhafa, a Roman amphitheater, another thing that I think was a Roman amphitheater but couldn't say for sure because we only drove past it, a massive Moorishly-styled Roman fort, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

In the library was an exhibit overviewing the life of famous MiSri (Egyptian) artist Shadi Abdel Salam, whose work I found very appealing, only to sadly discover that the library bookstore didn't sell posters or prints of his art.

Alexandria was a lot of fun, but I would have preferred to get more than a half-glimpse of it. At some point I will need to head back there for a weekend to take a better look, and replace the nifty mug I got from the library bookstore that lately got smashed, thanks to Al-Kitaab (my Arabic text book). Argh.

Edit: I meant to mention this, so I'll do it now--no matter where you stay in Egypt, whether it's a five-star resort in Alex or a $5-a-night hostel on Tal'at Harb, be wary with your valuables! Carry them with you at all times if you can, use the lock box provided by your hotel, or at the very least keep them out of sight and not easily accessible (i.e. at the bottom of your bag). Even at the five-star Hilton Borg Al-Arab, several students cumulatively had two cameras, an iPod, and several thousand LE stolen from their rooms, probably by the cleaning staff. Even more foreboding, the guy whose iPod was pilfered stopped by the local Alex Radio Shack at the mall in the city proper to see if he could buy a replacement. He was told by the employees there that they did not carry iPods at their store, but that he could buy them for pretty cheap at a little shop out by the Hilton. The hotel only begrudgingly offered compensation, but it was not equal by any means to the value of the items lost, and they did not reprimand any of their employees--and this was with a native Egyptian doing the negotiations on the students' behalf.


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